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The opaque rules of price transparency

05 November 2018

I practice immigration, my clients include companies and individuals. I am a sole practitioner with two employees and one simple functional website that I do not rely on for marketing my firm.

 

I have that sinking feeling and I feel alone in my uncertainty and apprehension as we approach the implementation of the SRA's new regulations on price transparency but I know I am not alone. December! A matter of weeks and so much to do, to have in place.

Transparency is not a new concept

As Chair of the Small Firm's Division I was involved with a consultation with the SRA over a period of time on the proposed transparency regulations. At the time, I had not come across any small firm or sole practitioner who supported the proposal to publish pricing on websites.

This was not because they feared transparency, far from it. Providing costs information, in a detailed and transparent manner was something embedded in our rules of conduct when I started as a trainee solicitor over 25 years ago and drummed into me from my first day.

Transparency is not a new concept, much as the proposals make it appear to be. We meet clients often for no charge, we assess their case (because no two clients or cases are ever the same), we advise on how we can help, and we set out details of what the costs and timelines will be before we start work, and then we keep them informed. Simple. Well, it used to be.

I must now provide costs information on my website for individual clients. Reading the new regulations and the guidances (SRA and Law Society's), l am struck, truly, by the immensity of what I must do in a short space of time in order to ensure that I am compliant. That sinking feeling has been joined by another, the rabbit caught in headlights feeling. 

The cost of costing

Looking at the guidance and the templates provided by the SRA I realise these are just some of the things I have to consider or implement between now and 1 December for individual clients in order to comply with mandatory price and service information and best practice tips:

Casework

  • Establish the type of application or other form of immigration work for clients in the future, name it on my website and break down the steps involved in each of the case types (there will be over 15)
  • Predict/estimate timelines for each, timelines which are often entirely dependent on the client's ability to provide evidence and on the Home Office
  • Review any case I have undertaken in the last, (how many years do I go back?), let's say 3 years for accuracy to establish what I charged on each, how I charged (time basis /fixed fees etc.) and whether they were simple, standard or complex cases
  • Consider providing different case scenarios with costs estimates for each of the 15 or so types of immigration work based on the previous cases and on variables such as whether I will meet the client or carry out the work via email entirely etc
  • Scope the work I will do for the estimated price in detail
  • Provide details of fee earners' experience/qualifications and state the % of time spent by each on given areas
  • Amend my terms and conditions and client care letter to minimise risks of misunderstandings arising for clients about the price scenarios given on my website and the price quoted specifically and charged.

Website work

  • Ensure it is all GDPR compliant and presented in clear language
  • Consider having a price calculator
  • Put in measures to ensure that the information is updated regularly
  • Provide links to other sites for possible disbursements
  • Overhaul my entire website to accommodate several or more pages of information which should fit together with the rest of the website design

What else can I do (other than give up a profession I love, or seriously consider becoming regulated by the Bar Council, which I do not say in jest)? I have found speaking with other solicitors helpful, everyone is willing to share their thoughts and experience so far.  No doubt all this will get done, as it must and come the beginning of December there will be increased traffic on every law firm's website as we, the lawyers and not the clients, check the information on our competitors' websites.

Whilst I champion any incentive that improves access to justice, I fear that these changes, implemented in this way, will create more confusion than clarity for clients.  It is also difficult to accept such heavy regulation on what is very much a commercially sensitive issue. I do not know of any other jurisdiction where lawyers are obliged to declare their charges in this manner, perhaps there are. 

At a time when so much is being done to open up the market and reduce the regulatory burdens on our competitors, the new regulations affecting me as a regulated solicitor appear to be adding heavily to my overheads, time away from fee earning, and affecting my freedom to act in the best way I can for my clients.

 

 Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

Read our new practice note on publishing price & service transparency information. Log in to your My Law Society account to access

Read the SRA price transparency guidance

Tags: knowledge management | immigration

About the author

Sally Azarmi founded Azarmi & Company Ltd in the City in 2012 after 18 years of practising as a solicitor and Partner in large law firms. She has been singled out by clients for her focus, efficiency and "brilliant strategic approach" as well as the personal and highly attentive nature of her practice and bespoke service. Azarmi & Co specialises in international trade, shipping and immigration.

Sally has been involved with the Small Firms Division of the Law Society since its inaugural year. She was formerly chair of the division, as she believes strongly in the need for small firms to provide access to justice and in promoting and supporting small firms across the country.

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