Most solicitors will be aware of the SRA Transparency Rules being introduced this December. It's an open secret that this move has been unpopular with the profession.
Reasons for this are many - see sole practitioner Sally Azarmi's November blog - but mainly it's because there is strong feeling that merely putting cost information on websites is unlikely to assist consumers and could in fact mislead them instead. That said, the Transparency Rules are coming into force on 6 December and since the rules are mandatory we offer some tips on trying to make the required changes work for you rather than against you.
Overview of the rules
The rules require all authorised law firms or sole practitioners to publish information on the prices they charge for certain services. This information must be published in a prominent location on your website, which is accessible, clearly signposted, and easy for visitors to find.
For those without a website, this information must be readily available upon request in another format (a leaflet, handout or other printed copy).
How to proceed?
The concerns we're hearing from practitioners include the difficulties of implementing the following 'to do' list — all before December 6:
- listing legal services and detailing the key stages and timelines for the work
- displaying prices (that are often dependent on an array of variables)
- creating biographies for staff
- changing/updating websites and/or client care materials.
Listing your services
You must detail what services are included in the displayed price, including the key stages of the matter and probable timescales. You are also required to provide the details of any services that might reasonably be expected to be included in the price displayed but are not.
Clients are unlikely to have a clear understanding of the stages of handling a legal matter so:
- make sure you are concise and avoid legal jargon
- simplify things by creating an easily comprehensible table that outlines the stages of work
- outline any timing that is dependent on third parties (ie client signatures, the Home Office)
- explain 'disbursements' and list what those might be (ie, searches, Land Registry fees) as well as any taxes (VAT) that could be added to the final cost.
Displaying price information
The Transparency Rules aim to ensure that the consumer is given a good indication of the likely costs prior to engagement with your firm and any retainer. You must include the total price of the service or, where not practicable, the average cost or range of costs including VAT (Rule 1.5(a)).
You could consider the following:
- Provide scenario examples of standard cases or transactions your firm deals with to give the consumer a comparator for their legal problem—estimated costs based on previous cases can give the consumer a good indication of the range of costs that they may be expected to pay. It will be helpful to include factors that could increase or decrease prices.
- The rules do not require you to publish a binding quote for every scenario. You can make it clear on your website that a discussion of the client's individual circumstances may reveal that the price is higher or lower.
- Remember you are not required to provide a cost for each stage of a matter, just the total cost (such as a fixed fee) or the average costs or range of costs.
The SRA has included some examples of this in their guidance. It will also be useful to look at competitor websites to see how other practitioners in your field are displaying their prices.
Create biographies for staff
Creating biographies for your partners and staff helps to personalise the experience for the consumer and is more likely to attract clients if they think you have the right expertise to help them.
It is sufficient to provide general experience and qualification information on staff who work in the relevant team. It is expected that you will provide information on anyone carrying out fee earning work.
If you already have a biographies section on your website that provides team information, then you do not need to include experience and qualifications information on the same page as the price information.
Updating your website
You need to publish information around pricing, so it makes sense to say as much as you can about what it is that you expect people to pay for. Your website is your shop window so include the following:
- mentions in relevant industry publications, legal directories or media appearances in high profile cases
- 'trust icons' such as quality marks or awards
- testimonials from existing clients (anonymised for confidentiality and data protection reasons).
If you have a fairly 'static' website that is rarely changed or updated you might want to take the opportunity to create a more dynamic, interactive site that will attract potential clients.
Read our new practice note on publishing price & service transparency information. Log in to your My Law Society account to access
Review the SRA's Transparency resources
Read sole practitioner Sally Azarmi's November blog: The opaque rules of price transparency
Explore our Risk and compliance section