As of December 2018 the rules – for all firms, regardless of size – are changing over what charging and service information law firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) must display on their websites. The new rules have been approved by the Legal Services Board based on a proposal by the SRA following its Better information in the legal services market research report.
The new rules apply to areas of law directed at ‘the public’ (as opposed to businesses). This means residential conveyancing, probate, road traffic offences, employee/employer tribunals and immigration (excepting asylum), and, for small businesses, debt recovery up to £100,000 and licensing applications for premises.
In addition to requiring firms to publish fees for services provided within these areas, they must also publish details of their complaints-handling procedures as well as displaying a new digital SRA badge. This badge, confirming the firm’s regulated status, is intended to assist awareness of client rights, promote confidence in the firm, and to be a clickable link to a page detailing protections such as the level of insurance cover and guidance on submitting compensation claims.
So how did we get here?
The SRA’s research, involving consultation with more than 21,000 members of the public and the legal profession, has shown that reputation followed by price are the two most important factors for people considering using a law firm. In addition to implementing these new rules, The SRA will also develop a searchable register of all regulated firms in England and Wales, to include all relevant and important information, and will introduce similar rules applying to solicitors working outside regulated firms. Details of complaints to firms will no longer be published by the SRA, following feedback giving a clear indication that without a necessary understanding of context this is unnecessarily confusing.
Further guidance and information on additional reforms are expected soon, with phased implementation from the end of 2018 onwards planned.
More Big Brother?
If the proposed changes seem at first glance to be a negative thing – cause for additional work and expenditure that has to be factored into planning – the truth is far from this. The outcome is intended to be of benefit to firms just as much as to their clients.
Paul Philip, the SRA’s Chief Executive, has described the new rules as a ‘win-win’, explaining that whilst they will assist members of the public and small business owners in making their choices, they will also assist law firms in promoting the quality and individuality of the services they offer. If they foster healthy competition that improves the quality of service to clients, everyone should support that.
In fact this is the perfect opportunity to think properly about the changes, modernisations, redesigns or rebrands that your firm has been considering, maybe for years, but has never implemented. The new rules offer scope to look at refreshing your offering in a much wider way, and making your firm truly future-ready.
The law today is a buyer’s market, so your website is your shop window. If it does not give the best possible experience to your customers, saying everything you need it to say about you and your brand, then it needs work regardless of what is necessitated by the new rules. Does it include entirely up-to-date information? Does it include testimonials? Are the biographies of your lawyers as relevant and engaging as they could or need be? How is your social media presence faring? The reality is that a great many firms could be doing better in these respects already, but have needed something to turn a push into a shove.
The new rules, seen in a positive light, may be just the thing that is needed.