LSB consultation on empowering consumers – Law Society response
The Legal Services Board (LSB) is consulting on a draft policy statement on empowering consumers.
The statement sets expectations for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and other frontline regulators to support consumers to better understand and engage with the legal services market.
The LSB intends to use its powers under section 49 of the Legal Services Act 2007 to set expectations for frontline regulators around:
- public legal education
- information about price, quality, service, redress and regulation
The LSB will be working with regulators to set expectations about making sure legal services providers offer helpful information to consumers on:
- the cost and quality of their services
- redress and regulation
We have a keen interest in promoting access to justice and we’re committed to making sure that legal services meet society’s needs.
Public legal education
The policy statement reflects the importance of public legal education (PLE) in addressing the sector’s challenges related to access to justice and consumer engagement, which we agree with.
However, a wider public policy intervention will be needed to deliver this important policy outcome.
We encourage the LSB to extend the partnership working beyond the legal regulators to other relevant stakeholders, to develop impactful cross-sectoral PLE initiatives.
Empowering consumers to engage more effectively with the legal market can help to alleviate some of the underlying obstacles to obtaining professional legal advice.
However, regulators should be given a greater level of flexibility in the approach they choose to take on what specific information remedies to be developed.
Given the diversity of the professions and practice areas covered by different frontline regulators, a flexible framework for the regulators is needed to make sure regulation:
- is proportionate
- is targeted
- delivers tailored approaches to take account of the needs of clients, especially those in vulnerable circumstances, and the type of provider and services offered
Regarding specific proposals around minimum levels of information about price, quality and service, the profession is committed to ensure that clients are provided with the right type of information at the right time.
Impact of the SRA Transparency Rules
Since the introduction of the SRA Transparency Rules, the profession has put significant effort into providing more information to clients on prices and services.
The SRA Transparency Rules: one year evaluation report and the CMA and LSB jointly commissioned research, acknowledge that there are positive indications that the existing transparency remedies are driving improved outcomes for consumers.
The regulators are intending to carry out further research into the impact of the measures.
Before considering new measures, we urge the LSB to allow time to fully evaluate the Transparency Rules’ impact to better understand the:
- current level of consumer engagement with existing information
- nature and extent of any challenges the public face
Rather than proposing specific expectations, the LSB should:
- set general expectations regarding information provision
- encourage frontline regulators to do further research and consumer testing to refine the measures over time in consultation with legal providers and other stakeholders
The need for impact assessments
The policy statement should set a requirement for regulators to rigorously assess new proposals.
In particular, the proposals should be assessed to understand the benefit for clients and the impact on the market, especially on small firms and sole practitioners.
Given that Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors are “over-represented” in such practices, regulators also need to consider potential implications for diversity and inclusion.
Digital comparison tools
Before considering promotion of digital comparison tools (DCTs) amongst consumers, adequate consumer protection measures need to be introduced to make sure that:
- the DCTs market operates fairly
- consumers, law firms and practitioners have trust and confidence to engage with such tools
The consultation closes on 8 December.
We’ll continue engaging with the LSB and the SRA to explore the issues around consumer empowerment through further research to examine the:
- benefits for clients
- viability and effectiveness of possible solutions in various practice areas