Regulation

LSB discussion paper on quality indicators – Law Society response

Overview

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) 2020 progress review recommended that the Legal Services Board (LSB) and other frontline regulators continue building on existing transparency reforms to enhance consumer engagement and make more progress on transparency around quality indicators.

Following the CMA’s recommendations, the LSB published a discussion paper on quality indicators in February 2021 seeking views on:

  • what information on quality consumers find helpful
  • the best channels for getting this information to them
  • potential policy options

In parallel, the SRA is developing a pilot exploring opportunities for firms to seek feedback from their clients and manage online customer reviews.

The LSB’s discussion paper broadly sets out two possible routes to achieving improvements in information quality:

  • market-led solutions likely to lead to wider variety of approaches
  • regulator-led solutions involving greater standardisation

The paper considers a potential framework for improving transparency of quality and examines the following issues:

How to define quality

  • Technical quality – quality of advice, comprehensiveness, accuracy
  • Service quality – quality of client care, communication
  • Outcome – desired outcome of casework

What type of information to collect

  • Objective data – for example, disciplinary records/sanctions, Legal Ombudsman decisions, error rates recorded by public bodies
  • Consumer feedback – narrative reviews, scoring systems
  • General information about providers – for example, age of firm, size of firm

What information channels to use

  • Legal services providers’ websites
  • Digital comparison tools
  • Single digital register

What options for improving consumer engagement

  • Requirements on legal services providers to signpost consumers to digital comparison tools (DCTs)
  • Requirements on legal services providers to embed a rating from a DCT on their website or operate a standardised customer feedback mechanism
  • Requirements on legal services providers to publish certain information in a specific format on their websites, such as complaints data or error rates
  • Supporting consumers to know what to look for when choosing providers
  • Supporting consumers and legal services providers to use DCTs safely

Our view

We have a strong interest in quality of legal services. High professional standards and high-quality legal advice lie at the core of the Law Society and the profession.

Our members strive to meet high standards of service, which is reflected in the high level of client satisfaction with solicitors in comparison to other professions.

The YouGov Legal Needs survey, carried out on behalf of the Law Society and LSB, shows strong client satisfaction, with nine out of 10 clients satisfied with solicitors.

We also help to drive up standards in the profession and demonstrate quality to consumers through accreditations we offer to legal practices and individual solicitors, who meet the highest standards of technical expertise and client service in specific areas of law.

Regulators should exercise their powers to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the quality of legal services that a regulated provider is likely to provide, rather than leave it for consumers to gauge ways to assess quality standards as best as they can.

There are challenges in identifying meaningful quality indicators for consumers within the legal sector.

The regulatory system and minimum entry standards should provide assurance around quality of legal advice. Improving awareness of these amongst consumers should be a crucial part of developing the overall strategy on quality indicators.

Professional ethics and proxies for quality – such as independence, honesty, integrity, confidentiality, and not acting when there is a conflict of interest – should be integral parts of quality measures, so that the public can maintain trust and confidence in the profession and the justice system.

Existing quality marks

There is already a range of quality marks in the legal sector that exist for consumers such as:

  • qualification as a solicitor with built-in ethical conduct
  • quality assurance standards set by the SRA and the Legal Aid Agency
  • our accreditations, which could be updated for practice areas under consideration

The LSB’s strategy should examine how to enhance the level of consumer engagement with existing quality schemes, prior to considering new measures.

Public legal education

Given the low public awareness of legal issues, public legal education should also be factored in more prominently in the mix of possible tools to make consumers aware of existing quality marks and nudge them to engage with information available from credible sources they can trust.

Special focus should be given to the most disadvantaged in our society to make them aware of available help, including that they may be eligible for legal aid, and signposting them to high quality services and providers they can trust.

Digital comparison tools

Before considering the role of digital comparison tools (DCTs) as a potential mechanism for making consumers aware of quality indicators, it will be important to analyse:

  • potential benefits and risk for consumers
  • the likely impact on legal service providers and a wider market

Adequate consumer protection measures would need to be introduced to ensure clients can safely engage with DCTs, and the market is not distorted so that the public can maintain trust and confidence in the legal sector and the wider justice system.

Quality proxies

More research needs to be done to examine the viability and effectiveness of possible quality proxies in various practice areas. For this reason, we are supportive of the SRA’s pilot with law firms and DCTs to test potential scenarios in practice.

How we can help

We would be pleased to share our expertise in these areas and work with the LSB and other stakeholders to explore all relevant issues with the most helpful quality indicators for clients.

We’re keen to offer expertise of our accreditation schemes as well as insight of our specialist subject committees covering various practice areas.

What this means for solicitors

The way the LSB regulates, in its capacity as an oversight regulator, will impact on the profession and the whole sector.

Any decision to determine suitable quality indicators must be supported by robust evidence on the level of consumer engagement with quality indicators and show it to be cost-effective and practical to deliver at firms’ level.

Any proposals need to be rigorously assessed, in particular through the impact on small firms and sole practitioners, in order to show they will deliver tangible benefits to clients.

Next steps

Feedback on the discussion paper closed on 22 April.

Responses will inform the LSB’s draft policy statement on consumer engagement, which will set expectations of the legal services regulators in relation to market transparency.

The LSB plans to consult on the statement in summer 2021.

Read the discussion paper on the LSB website

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS