On 6 December 2018 all regulated firms will be expected to comply with the SRA Transparency Rules. For firms that publicise their services for certain areas of law, this will require them to publish price and service information, on their website (or on request if a firm does not have a website).
The Law Society has published a practice note on price and service transparency. We have also been working with some of our specialist committees to think about how firms might be able to meet the SRA’s new requirements.
This article discusses some of the most common areas of difficulty and shares some tips using examples from different areas of law that will be subject to the rules.
These examples are for illustrative purposes only, and it is up to you to determine how best to meet the requirements for your firm.
Avoiding misunderstandings on price for clients
Firms may be concerned that clients will think that the price listed on the website will always be the price in their case.
To avoid misunderstandings, you can set out that every case is different and encourage clients to contact you to get an estimate for their particular case.
For a probate matter, before setting out your prices, you could say something like this:
'Obtaining a grant of representation and dealing with the administration of an estate can be complicated; it can take several months to make sure everything is done properly. At [firm name] we offer a complete estate administration service to deal with everything for you.
Every estate is different, which is why we encourage you to contact us so we can provide you with an estimate outlining a range of potential fees to make sure that you get the right amount of support to meet your individual circumstances. We will update you regularly on your costs throughout the matter so you can stay in control throughout.'
You may want to consider defining terms like ‘estate’ so they are understood by the client.
Defining the scope of the work
Although you are not required to do so, it may be a good idea to define what is in scope and out of scope of the work that your firm offers. For example, you could say:
'We will do the following:
- advise you in connection with obtaining the appropriate grant of representation to the estate;
- advise you in connection with the administration of the estate; including the legal, taxation and administrative matters.
We will not do the following:
- provide any advice in relation to foreign assets, however we are able to co-ordinate advice with professional advisers in other jurisdictions in relation to assets held abroad but only to the extent specifically agreed in writing between us (which may incur an additional cost);
- provide advice in relation to dealing with actual claims made against the estate, or contentious matters in dealing with the administration of the estate – these would be a separate matter, however we are able to co-ordinate with other professional advisers on how this impacts the administration of the estate but only to the extent specifically agreed in writing between us (which may incur an additional cost).'
Explaining your assumptions
For each specified area of law you are required to publish either a fixed cost, an average cost or a range of costs on your website.
When you do so, it is helpful to caveat this information and set out what assumptions you have used. For example:
An example of our costs
'The below price information is a general indication of costs based on our experience.
We estimate a fixed fee cost is likely to range between £1,750 and £2,500 plus VAT and disbursements* for a straightforward grant of probate and administration of an estate, for estates in England and Wales, where:
- there is no more than one property in the sole name of the deceased
- there are no more than three bank accounts
- there are no debts (other than utility bills)
- there is a valid will appointing executors
- there is a single beneficiary
- there are no complications
*Disbursements (costs related to your matter that are payable to third parties)'
|Office copies for the grant of probate (per copy)||£0.50||none|
|Post in the local newspaper||£185.00||none|
|Post in the London Gazette||£62.15||none|
* Please note that the government has issued proposals to increase fees in the future. We will attempt to make the application for the grant before the fee changes but due to the nature of the process and reliance on third parties this may not be possible.
'Please contact us so that we can provide you with an individual quote based on your specific circumstances.'
Listing factors that could increase costs
The transparency requirements are intended to give consumers as good an indication as possible about the price of their matter.
If you list factors that could increase overall costs, it could provide consumers with an indication of whether their matter is likely to cost more than the price on your webpage. For example:
'The following factors are likely to increase the cost of your matter:
- not having all of the paperwork available, or having missing or incorrect information that needs investigation and correction
- third parties not responding to our communications promptly
- dealing with unusual or complex assets or items (for example: fine art; timeshares; shares in private companies etc)
As soon as any complications arise we will discuss these with you and agree the fee for the additional work being carried out in advance of any additional work being undertaken.'
Making your firm stand out
You may be concerned that these rules will result in a ‘race to the bottom’ and your firm will be undercut by other firms.
It is true that there is a risk, as our behavioural research has highlighted, that consumers will disproportionately focus on price.
It is therefore important to demonstrate the value that clients get from using your firm, and your experience and expertise across relevant practice areas, to help differentiate yourself from competitors.
You are required to publish the services included in the price displayed, including the key stages of the matter and likely timescales. Use this to your advantage and be clear about the range of services you are providing. It may be the case that a firm prices its services lower than yours, but does not offer the range of services you do.
One way to approach this is to lay out the stages of a matter along with the services you provide at each stage. Using the example of an immigration application, it could look like this:
'The process is likely to take between two to four months from preparation of sponsorship licence to Tier 2 work permission granted to employee (exceptions apply, especially in view of the restricted certificate of sponsorship process).'
|Steps in the process||Services we provide|
|1. Instruct one of our immigration solicitors||We will take information from you (instructions) on the level of support you need in using the Tier 2 sponsorship process. We will provide an estimate of the work we consider will be required.|
If you accept the estimate we will provide you with an engagement letter with details regarding our terms and conditions.
Once we have your signed version of the engagement letter we will send you a checklist of the documentation that is needed for the immediate sponsorship steps you wish to take.
|2. Financing||You will need to arrange cover for the full costs of the Home Office fees, as well as our estimated legal fees and outlined expenses. |
We will generally ask for at least half of our estimated fees upfront before we start work on your case. These fees will be held on trust for you, in our client bank account.
|3. Legal work||You will provide evidence we request in a scanned format, which will be uploaded on a mutually agreed web server.|
We will prepare necessary information and evidence to support you during the various stages of the sponsorship process, including the submission of applications and sponsorship certificate requests.
|4. Responding to enquiries||We will work with you to respond to any requests from the Home Office for further evidence or information (which will be charged separately). |
|5. The decision||If the application/certificate request is approved we will advise you of the follow up steps to complete the sponsorship process, up to the point where the sponsored worker commences working.|
If the Home Office refuses you at any point during the sponsorship process, we will outline the remedies available, including re-applying and lodging administrative or judicial reviews.
Services that are not included
Importantly, you are also required to include details of any services that might reasonably be expected to be included in the price displayed but are not. For example:
'What is not included: These fees do not cover the cost of submitting a new application, and appeal or a judicial review in the event that the application has been refused, or ad hoc support and advice.'
The new rules are minimum requirements. You are therefore free to publish further information on your website if you wish to do so, such as testimonials or relevant industry publications.
Information on experience and qualifications of staff
The Rules require you to include information on the experience and qualifications of anyone carrying out the work, and of their supervisors.
However, you are not required to name a specific person who will work on the matter. Instead, it is sufficient to provide general experience and qualification information on fee-earning staff who work in the relevant team.
One way to approach this is to provide a brief overview of your team, for example:
'Our conveyancing team is made up of Chartered Legal Executives* (with one to three years’ experience) and qualified solicitors (with at least four years’ experience). The team is supervised by [partner name] who has over 15 years’ experience working in residential conveyancing and qualified as a solicitor in 2002.
*Chartered Legal Executives are a regulated legal profession who specialises in a particular area of law, often working alongside solicitors.'
As per the SRA guidance, 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.