Legal comparison sites, which commonly display fixed fees for subscribing law firms, have been described by some as a positive avenue for bringing transparency into the legal sector. In a recent strategy proposal, the legal ombudsman showed support for comparison sites, a move which has proved increasingly unpopular within the legal industry.
Lawyers’ distaste for comparison sites is understandable: using one pricing figure for such a complex service could be described as arbitrary, misleading and unhelpful, especially when the solicitors have to provide that figure without knowing the details of potential cases. The Bar Council’s response to the Ombudsman’s report spoke for the legal industry in sharing these views.
It is unclear whether comparison sites benefit clients either. The use of a price provided before the solicitor has seen a client’s case makes for a poor comparison, and the likelihood that solicitors will have to alter that fee based on the case presented to them is high.
There are other issues relating to the use of legal comparison sites too. The Legal Services Consumer Panel raised concerns about ‘gaming’ comparison sites as we have seen in other sectors, and financial partiality may also influence results. Comparison sites are remunerated by solicitors for a referral, which creates the possibility for financial incentives to impact a law firm’s standing on such a site. In all, a client’s experience on such sites works as no more than a directory, from which a client will then need to contact individual firms to determine the actual price for their case.
Innovation in the Legal Sector
It is not in doubt that innovation is needed in the legal sector to resolve issues of pricing transparency and access, but comparison sites may not be the answer. Rather, the solution is one which enables those seeking legal advice to interact with solicitors, to agree a price in advance only once the solicitor has the information that they need, and ultimately allow the consumer to make a legitimate, informed choice based on the actual cost of the service as well as the experience of others who have worked with the solicitor.
This was the incentive and the driving force behind LawBid. We saw that comparison sites couldn’t and wouldn’t work for the legal sector and that a unique tool was required instead. The result is a site which allows those in need of legal services to submit the details of their case, enabling solicitors to interact with these users and ask questions. Clients then receive a price quotation or a ‘bid’ from the solicitor, upfront, for the cost of the services required. At this point the client is able to make an informed, considered choice from the solicitors who have expressed an interest in their case, based on price and reviews.
The Competition and Markets Authority suggest that the service will come to dominate the legal sector within the coming years, because of the transparency and choice that clients receive, and the quality and value-centric nature of the competition involved. In fact, the Solicitors Regulation Authority have proposed acting as a catalyst, promoting such sites.
What is clear is that comparison sites do not pose a long-term solution to the issues of legal competition, transparency and clarity, and instead raise many concerns of their own. Subjective, inaccurate pricing serves as no more than a sticking plaster to a wound. Those seeking legal advice expect to find clear, accurate costs, helpful ratings or reviews, and the ability to interact with solicitors online. LawBid can offer this to users in a way that comparison sites just cannot.