Make yourself clear: Embracing transparency during lockdown

The SRA has undertaken another web sweep of law firm websites, and it seems some firms are still not complying with the transparency rules. Dave Seager of SIFA Professional explains some steps you can take now to improve and make your website more open and welcoming, and stand out from the competition.
Person at computer using mouse

Last year, I wrote an article on the SRA’s new transparency rules, prompted by the regulator’s first ’web sweep’ of 500 law firms, which had revealed that many had not taken the new rules that seriously. Indeed, at that time, 17% of the websites revealed complete non-compliance, which equates to over 1,700 firms on a pro-rata basis. 

In March, the SRA announced it had carried out a further web sweep of over 600 law firm websites. Whilst the results of this are not yet public, the SRA suggests there’s still cause for concern, well over a year after the rules were introduced, and that it would be considering potential enforcement action where it found non-compliance. 

It really cannot be overstated how seriously the SRA is taking this. It has confirmed it’ll undertake further web sweeps. A thematic review is likely to follow and, since last summer, the SRA on many occasions has urged firms to go further and apply transparency to all the services they offer.

The first of the new SRA themes announced for 2020-23 is embedding the reforms of the last three years, of which transparency was central. Combined with the messages from the SRA I have just mentioned, it looks highly likely that the transparency rules will be expanded to cover a wider range of legal services sooner rather than later.

At their heart, the transparency rules are intended to benefit the solicitor community, by engendering in consumers a more positive impression of legal services and the likely costs firms will charge, to facilitate easier consumer research and enhance trust in the profession. Today, we live in a ‘Google society’, where consumers like to begin their research online to ’narrow the field’, before they approach a law firm or firms (this is borne out of findings of 2016 research by the Competitions and Markets Authority).

Therefore, during this time while seeing clients is so difficult, you have a great opportunity to genuinely take stock and reflect on how best to take the principles of transparency and apply them to your website to ensure your firm, its people and services are presented in the most reassuring and appealing way to consumers.

In short, how can you differentiate your business from your competitors?

I spend considerable time studying and advising both financial planning firms and law firms on their websites. I urge them to highlight to existing and potential new clients that their firm actively works with carefully selected professional third parties. This is critical, as the modern client typically looks for a mix of holistic advice and problem solving from their adviser. Neither profession can always provide this on their own.

Here are some things to consider if you want go beyond the basic transparency rules and fully embrace their reasoning on your website.

  • Do you want to apply transparency across all your service and offerings, where practical?
  • It is value that is critical to the prospective client, not price. Ensure you explain all the stages of work involved in the legal services you offer, and that these stages make up your charges.
  • Use plain language and avoid legal jargon.
  • Staff biographies are vital, and should include not only people’s experience and qualifications, but also some personal information. This helps personalise the experience for consumers at the research stage. Add bios of the whole team, not just the head of department and lead solicitor.
  • Encourage key staff to write blogs to demonstrate their approachability and competence. (A proactive and beneficial use of time during lockdown.)
  • Use social media to increase your firm’s profile, demonstrate your expertise and bring potential clients to your improved website.
  • Short, concise videos are an excellent way to explain the stages of a legal process and bring your services to life. They are prevalent on social media for good reason.
  • Proudly display your professional achievements (such as any award wins) and the quality of your firm and your people, as well as key, relevant accreditations.
  • Do not be shy of having a testimonials section to give clients confidence that other people have benefited from the work you’ve done for them.
  • So much of what solicitors do for clients requires complimentary advice from fellow professionals. So, ensure your website highlights that your firm will work closely with carefully selected accountants and/or financial planners.

We are all looking to be productive during these unprecedented times, but let’s be imaginative and proactive, to ensure we come out the other side stronger and with a website that differentiates us from the competition.

Dave Seager is managing director of SIFA Professional, which provides business and marketing support to impartial independent financial advisers who work with solicitors. SIFA Professional is a partner of the Law Society. For more information, visit our offers page.

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