Empowering consumers in the legal services market
The Legal Services Board's (LSB) policy statement on empowering consumers sets new expectations for regulators to support consumers' understanding of and engagement with the legal services market.
The statement sets high-level expectations for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and other frontline regulators around information on:
It brings together the LSB's work on quality indicators, price and service transparency, public legal education (PLE) and engagement with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Regulators will have flexibility to adopt different approaches, as the LSB recognises that each body regulates different professions and practice areas.
The LSB has directed regulators to implement effective programmes to support PLE, focusing on activities that help consumers to understand when they have a legal problem and how to access professional support.
This includes, for example, contributing to cross-sector initiatives like Legal Choices to increase public understanding of citizen's legal rights and duties.
The LSB expects regulators to consider how to make it easier for consumers to use and compare information using digital comparison tools (DCTs), such as:
- comparison websites
- customer review websites
- a centralised database of regulatory information
The legal profession is committed to making sure that clients have sufficient information before engaging a solicitor.
In principle, setting expectations around a base level of transparency could help to deliver more information for clients.
However, given hugely diverse practice areas, a fully standardised and comparable information model will be challenging to achieve in practice, especially regarding information on:
- the quality of legal services provided
- customer service
- work outcome
Testing new proposals
We're pleased that the LSB recognised our call for the need to test new proposals before implementation.
The LSB added a new principle to the statement that encourages regulators to test proposed transparency measures to make sure these suit consumers' needs.
The LSB acknowledged our concerns about the potential disproportionate impact that might arise from the expectations on small firms and sole practitioners, as practitioners with protected characteristics often operate in such practices.
The LSB expects frontline regulators to consider diversity and inclusion implications before implementing new measures.
Regulation of digital comparison tools
Given concerns about DCTs in other markets, regulators should make sure that DCT markets operate fairly before promoting these to clients.
Regulators should also make sure that consumers, law firms and practitioners have trust and confidence to engage with such tools.
While solicitors comply with rigorous transparency rules and the LSB places more expectation on regulated professions, DCTs operating in the legal market are not subject to similar measures or regulatory oversight from frontline regulators.
This is a real loophole that needs addressing to make sure that information is not distorted and to build clients' and solicitors' trust in such tools.
- April 2022 – the LSB published its final policy statement (PDF), which incorporated our feedback
- November 2021 – we shared our response to the LSB's consultation on its draft policy statement
- April 2021 – we engaged with the LSB’s work and contributed to the discussion on the type of quality indicators that could be useful to provide to consumers
- February 2021 – the LSB published a discussion paper on quality indicators seeking views on:
- what information on quality consumers find helpful
- the best channels for getting this information to them
- potential policy options
- January 2021 – the SRA launched a pilot exploring opportunities for firms to seek feedback from their clients and manage online customer reviews
- December 2020 – the CMA’s progress review concluded that, although some positive progress has been made on improving price transparency, the LSB and other frontline regulators should:
- continue work building on existing transparency reforms to enhance consumer engagement
- make more progress on transparency around quality indicators
We’ll continue engaging with the LSB and the SRA to:
- explore the issues around consumer empowerment
- test potential scenarios to understand the benefit for clients and the impact on the market, especially on small firms and sole practitioners