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Quality indicators in the legal services market
On 23 February, the Legal Services Board (LSB) published a discussion paper opening a debate on how to improve transparency of quality in the legal services market.
The LSB sought views on its initial thinking in this area, with the deadline for responses on 22 April 2021.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) 2020 progress review concluded that while some positive progress has been made on increasing transparency around prices, less was done in the area of service quality.
The CMA recommended that the LSB and other frontline regulators continue work 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 is keen to accelerate its work on consumer engagement and identify practical solutions to improve transparency of information on service quality for consumers.
Alongside the paper, the LSB also published quality indicators research conducted with the LSB’s Public Panel.
The research was commissioned to understand what consumers look for in terms of quality, the information they currently use to gauge quality, and their response to initiatives to improve access to information on quality.
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 outlines a proposed framework for improving transparency of quality that considers the following aspects:
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
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.
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.
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.