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Transparency lies at the heart of Consumer Satisfaction

In January, the Legal Services Board (LSB) of England & Wales released its “Regulatory Performance: Transitional Assessment Review” looking at the transitional assessment of each legal services regulatory body against the LSB’s regulatory performance standards. The report found that it had “sufficient assurance that the regulatory bodies have met the minimum required level of performance against the majority of expected outcomes”.

Transparency across the legal services market lies at the heart of consumer satisfaction. Recent Competition and Market Authority statistics found that before choosing their legal service provider 85% of consumers want better access to information, 53% want information about price, and 37% of consumers what to know about the quality of the service they would receive. In response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority released new price transparency rules, which requires regulated firms to publish price and service information on their websites.

Since 6 December 2018, all solicitors firms had to publish cost information in relation to conveyancing, probate, debt, employment and immigration. The new rules dictate that firms must provide a total cost or an average or range of costs, as well as explain the basis of these charges, including any hourly rate or fixed fees. Firms also must be clear on whether VAT is included, while also highlighting likely disbursements, and their costs. Any conditional or damages-based fees must be fully explained to clients who may have to make payments.

In addition to price transparency, firms are also required to ensure consumers under stand the services they require and are receiving. The rules demand firms

  • Explain what services are included for the quoted price
  • Highlight any services not included within the price, which a client may reasonably expect to be
  • Include information on key stages and typical timescales of these, and
  • Publish the qualifications and experience of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors.

SRA’s ‘Looking to the Future’ programme is based on a sound argument that law firms must become more transparent if they are to survive. Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Publishing information on price, services and protections will not only benefit the public, but will also help law firms win new business. Research shows that people struggle to find clear information about the services firms offer and think using a solicitor is more expensive than it actually is. We are providing guidance and support for firms to help them meet the new requirements and make the most of the opportunities they bring.”

The SRA has taken consumer protection and transparency a step further, introducing a new Digital Badge. Provided via software which will make sure only regulated firms can display it, the badge will show online visitors which firms are regulated and provide them with a link to information on the protections this provides. Displaying the badge will help firms differentiate themselves from unregulated providers. Use of the badge is initially voluntary but will become a mandatory requirement during 2019.

Challenges of Transparency

Due to the business structures of many law firms, publishing fees is no straightforward matter, leading to some to use a confusing blend of charts, costs schedules, calculators and costs estimates. It is the unknown factors of pursuing legal cases which can alter costs. Russell Conway, senior partner at Oliver Fisher, notes, “It’s the wiggle room issue which is going to be the bellwether as to how successful this project is”.

Price transparency undoubtedly remains vital to consumer protection and satisfaction. However, there are concerns that some consumers may be heavily influenced by price, rather than by skill and expertise. David Kirwan questions if, in a new transparent pricing environment, consumers will truly stop and weigh skills and expertise, rather than revert to low costs. These concerns are not isolated to the UK market, as globally practitioners have expressed concerns about an eventual ‘race to the bottom’. Kirwan notes that “How we as an industry respond, and the way in which we convince consumers that it’s worth potentially paying more to receive a high-quality service, will be crucial if we are to retain the high standards for which this country’s legal sector has become known”.

Complaints Transparency

In considering the question of quality of legal services, greater transparency and public access to disciplinary records is also needed. One of the key findings of the LSB report highlighted that regulators must continue to maintain records of disciplinary sanctions in their official registers. The SRA has issued guidance to help firms clearly understand their obligations under Rule 2.1 of the SRA Transparency Rules to publish complaints. This guidance includes information on complaints handling procedure details, how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman, and details about how and when a complaint can be made to the SRA. Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) stated that “Making enforcement data available to consumers is an area that will particularly benefit from consistency in approach”.

Ultimately, providing the public with as much clarity and information as possible when it comes to the legal services they require can benefit not only the consumer, but promote and ensure quality and competence of the industry as a whole. The new transparency rules promulgated by the SRA in December 2018 will improve public access to legal services, ensuring such information on legal service providers is readily available to consumers.


Interested in transparency and enforcement? Contact us and share what is happening in your jurisdiction. There are also opportunities to get involved with the topic at the annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator.

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Call for Publications: Journal for the Professional Lawyer

The American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility Publications Board is seeking submissions for publication in Journal of the Professional Lawyer, a peer-reviewed annual publication which typically features longer articles than the Center’s magazine, covering topics in greater depth, in law review format.

The deadline for articles for the 2018 edition of Journal of the Professional Lawyer is November 14, 2018.

Please submit articles to Mary McDermott, Senior Counsel, and staff to the Center Publications Board at:

Mary.mcdermott@americanbar.org

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State Bar of California publishes 2017 Annual Discipline Report

In 2017 the State Bar and its prosecutorial arm, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, implemented a number of comprehensive structural and process re-engineering reforms designed to improve public protection for all California residents. Given the ambitious nature of these reforms, key measures from the report indicate a decline in short-term performance as compared to the previous year.

Key 2017 workload measures include:

  • Received 15,175 new complaints of attorney misconduct; of these 524 were immigration related;
  • Received 668 unauthorized practice of law complaints, 158 of which were immigration related;
  • Referred 315 unauthorized practice of law matters to law enforcement for potential prosecution;
  • Closed 14,063 cases and filed formal charges in 483;
  • Recommended disbarment or suspension to the Supreme Court in 592 cases;
  • Disbarred 129 attorneys; suspended 134 attorneys; and reprimanded 52 attorneys.

An additional performance measure included in the Annual Discipline Report is case backlog, which grew in 2017. The report notes that while the current backlog is up, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel has been developing a new system of case prioritisation to provide more protection to vulnerable victims of attorney misconduct, which will ultimately ensure that the cases that cause the most harm to the public never end up in backlog status.

“Californians deserve to be protected by a strong attorney discipline system. Our internal reforms and improvements will help the State Bar better achieve our mission of protecting the public from attorney misconduct,” said Leah Wilson, Executive Director of the State Bar of California.

Major initiatives of the State Bar Office of Chief Trial Counsel in 2017 include:

  • Development of an improved case prioritisation system to devote more resources to the cases which pose the greatest threat to the public;
  • Implementation of a new Case Management System to increase transparency, effectiveness, and efficiency;
  • Assessment of workload to allocate heavy caseloads among staff fairly and efficiently.

The State Bar’s ongoing reform efforts included additional measures  taken in 2017 to support the attorney discipline system and public protection:

Read the full 2017 Annual Discipline Report.

 

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LSB open consultation: share your views

The Legal Services Board (England and Wales) has launched a consultation paper seeking input and comment on their proposed three-year strategy (2018 – 2021) and business plan for 2018/19.  Some of the key themes and questions they address include: the impact of technology; consumer engagement with and experience of legal services; the impact of changing population demographics (growing and ageing population); how to remedy the lack of competition in the legal services market and the increasing and changing demands on regulators and the profession.

In the attached consultation the LSB outlines their priorities and plans and asks other legal regulators and representative bodies to:

  • Highlight any additional significant market trends or drivers for change that the LSB should also take into account
  • Comment on the LSB’s strategic objectives
  • Comment on their equality objectives
  • Comment on their proposed approach to market intelligence within the strategy
  • Identify any elements of the strategy or business plan that present an opportunity for more detailed dialogue and/or joint working between your organisation and the LSB.

The consultation is open until 19 February 2018.

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What We Know and Need to Know About Global Lawyer Regulation

This article is one of a series addressing the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services, and is intended to provide a foundation for policymakers interested in global lawyer regulation. Rather than suggest the best approach to regulating global lawyering and lawyers, however, the article instead takes aim at developing a wish-list of information for use by any U.S.-based policymaker interested in thinking through why a particular regulatory strategy is most likely to satisfy their objectives. The article addresses three questions. First, what does “global lawyer regulation” mean? Second, what should policymakers know before imposing or changing regulation? And third, which aspects of this need-to-know category already are known or would be knowable with modest additional effort? This foundation is intended to help policymakers consider next steps in supporting their role as regulatory advisors or direct regulators in a global context.

Link to the full article

Citation: Silver, Carole, What We Know and Need to Know About Global Lawyer Regulation (May 19, 2016). 67 South Carolina Law Review 461 (2016); Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 16-11; HLS Center on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2016-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2782029

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Trends in global and Canadian lawyer regulation

This article examines Canadian lawyer regulation in light of the global trends challenging regulators worldwide. It explains why it is important for Canadian lawyers, regulators, clients, and other stakeholders to be aware of these global trends. The article also addresses the issue of whether these trends matter in a jurisdiction such as Saskatchewan that is not a global financial center on the order of New York, London or Toronto. The answer the article provides is “yes” – these trends are relevant to Saskatchewan and to jurisdictions throughout the world that care about lawyer regulation.

Terry, Laurel S., Trends in Global and Canadian Lawyer Regulation (2013). 76 Saskatchewan L. Rev. 145 (2013); Penn State Law Research Paper No. 24-2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2260560

This article was also presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: Rethinking the application of technology to regulatory work

Trends in Global and Canadian Lawyer Regulation

 

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Why Your Jurisdiction Should Consider Jumping on the Regulatory Objectives Bandwagon

It has become increasingly common to find jurisdictions adopting an explicit and succinct statement of the goals they are trying to achieve when they regulate lawyers. The first example was the 2007 UK Legal Services Act, which set forth the regulatory objectives that the Act — and its implementation — should achieve. The form that such adoption takes depends on the jurisdiction’s system of lawyer regulation. Thus, in the U.S., it likely would be a state’s high court and not the legislature or a law society that would adopt regulatory objectives,

This article explains why the author recommends that jurisdictions develop regulatory objectives. Explicitly articulating goals should lead to greater public understanding of our system of lawyer regulation, make it less likely that any particular regulation will be motivated by an improper purpose (such as lawyer self-interest), and make it easier for those who regulate lawyers to respond to claims that regulation of lawyers is motivated purely by lawyer self-interest.

This article argues for an adoption process that is transparent and that encourages meaningful input from a wide variety of stakeholders. It urges US states to jump on the regulatory objectives bandwagon and to begin the process of developing objectives suitable for their respective jurisdictions.

Terry, Laurel S., Why Your Jurisdiction Should Consider Jumping on the Regulatory Objectives Bandwagon (2013). 22(1) Prof. Lawyer 1 (2013). Read the article at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2697211

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