In a statement released last week, the Solicitors Regulation Authority responded to a 2016 CMA report by backing the compulsory publication of prices.
Since the publication of the CMA’s Legal Services Market Study back in December 2016, the recommendations within the report have been a source of constant debate amongst legal professionals.
The study, widely quoted by major legal publications, claimed that ‘the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses.’. They go on to back up this assertion by explaining that
‘Consumers find it hard to make informed choices because there is very little transparency about price, service and quality – for example, research conducted by the Legal Services Board (LSB) found that only 17% of legal services providers publish their prices online. This lack of transparency weakens competition between providers and means that some consumers do not obtain legal advice when they would benefit from it.’
The CMA recommend that ‘Increasing transparency of price, service and quality is therefore essential for consumers to get a better deal.’. Whilst accurate in their claims that a lack of transparency could act as a potential barrier to access for many people, these recommendations received a somewhat rocky reception from many within the sector.
These concerns proved to be little changed last week, when the SRA released a statement supporting the CMA’s recommendations that firms should publish prices online to increase transparency.
Reading forum discussions between solicitors on the subject of the proposals, the objections tend to arise from two overlapping ideas. Firstly, that the SRA does not understand, or does not listen to, the concerns of the firms they regulate. And secondly, that publishing prices online is far too complicated to be realistically expected.
Below, we can see a Twitter poll conducted by the SRA where the most popular answer to the question ‘What’s stopping law firms publishing prices?’ is ‘Too complicated’.
This is a valid concern and one which the SRA recognises in their statement, explaining ‘We have recognised the complexity of doing this, especially as legal services are not a simple product.’. With such a complex and varied product, it will inevitably be challenging for firms to publish standard prices for their services.
In a comment on a Law Society Gazette article, one anonymous commentator sarcastically remarked:
‘I went to a garage and asked how much it would cost to repair my car. It had the audacity to say that it wanted to look under the bonnet before giving me a price!’
Whilst tongue in cheek, this comment is great indicator of the way many legal professionals feel about the proposed measures.
However, the difficulties faced by solicitors when it comes to publishing prices does not detract from the fact that the current lack of transparency prevents clients from making informed decisions when instructing a solicitor.
LawBid offers a solution to both clients who are left in the dark by a lack of transparency and solicitors who will struggle when publishing accurate prices online.
To draw on the sardonic analogy made by the anonymous commentator mentioned above, LawBid allows solicitors to look under the bonnet before providing a quote for their services.
By giving solicitors the opportunity to review a description of a potential client’s circumstances and communicate with them to find out all the information they need before providing a quote, LawBid solves the problems associated with publishing prices online by encouraging solicitors to provide pricing information on a case by case basis.
However, LawBid doesn’t just make life easier for solicitors. The system solves the issue of price transparency by ensuring fees are agreed upfront, allowing potential clients to communicate with multiple solicitors at once and giving users the opportunity to consult user reviews to ensure the service they are getting is best quality and value available.
The dilemma caused by the somewhat opposing issues faced by law firms and their potential clients will remain for as long as those within the sector choose not to explore innovative solutions.
In their report, the CMA speaks at length about the possible importance of digital comparison tools. Unfortunately, the reality is that law firms will experience the same problems with price transparency but in a different setting.
LawBid offers firms the chance to be more transparent over pricing without the issues associated with publishing inaccurate pricing information online.