The Legal Services Board are exploring the option of compelling law firms to sign up to comparison websites; firms would have to appear on platforms that compare prices or performance.
This is following concerns that firms have not responded adequately to the Competition and Market Authority’s request in 2016 for greater transparency across the legal sector to aid consumer choice. Although firms now have to publish their prices for certain types of work and display an SRA digital badge on their websites, LSB believe that not enough has been achieved to meet the CMA’s request – particularly relating to increasing market transparency for consumers. The LSB has been tasked with potentially acting if regulators were not plugging information gaps sufficiently, to the detriment of market transparency.
Specifically, feedback platforms and quality indicators were to be promoted. More information on the price and service consumers receive was to be provided, and comparison sites provided with greater data. Furthermore, regulators were to promote the use of independent feedback platforms. The CMA is due to report back at the end of 2020 on the success of the implementation of its recommendations.
Due to the ‘limited progress’, given that consumer use of comparison sites ‘remains low and law firms are still not embracing them’, the LSB is now considering mandating the use of a public facility to allow customers of the firms to provide feedback on the quality of the legal service they received. Although this option was rejected by the CMA in 2016, as they wanted to allow the market time to develop, its report noted ‘the apparent lack of willingness [by law firms] to engage with comparison platforms may inhibit their widespread use and subsequent regulatory action may be necessary’.
However, comparison sites are still unable to enter the legal sector, as the sites have failed to capture public attention as they have done for insurance or energy markets.
There are other options though as firms may be required to send clients to sites where reviews of the firms and the legal service has been provided, or publish aggregated trend data on firms against complaints and to name the providers relating to this information – but this option is yet to convince the LSB.
This story was written by John Hyde on 4th February 2020 for The Law Gazette: