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Recent research undertaken by the SRA (Year One Evaluation of the Transparency Rules) has shown that many consumers find online pricing information helpful when choosing a solicitor and almost a third of law firms said that they would recommend publishing price and service information as being good for business. So here are some useful pointers as to what you should be doing, not just to comply with the law but to help your firm acquire and retain the type of clients that you want to work with.
Since 6 December 2018, regulated law firms who undertake work in specific practice areas have been required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to comply with requirements around pricing and transparency to help consumers when choosing a legal advisor. The requirements are to:
So if you work in residential conveyancing, uncontested probate, immigration (excluding asylum), motoring offences (summary offences), employment tribunals (unfair or wrongful dismissal), recovery of debts up to £100,000 or licensing applications for business premises then you must make your pricing information available on your website or in an alternative format.
Make it clear and easy to understand, whether setting this out on a fixed fee basis if that is typical for your practice area, or state an hourly rate. Explain what ‘disbursements’ means and what this may consist of. Clients need to know what is included in the quoted price, where they may expect any variances to occur. You also need to specify the current rate of VAT and whether that is included. If you are open to flexible payment options then do say so, as that can be reassuring. This information needs to be clearly accessible from your homepage, which the Competition and Markets Authority has defined as being within three clicks. If you are setting out price bands then try to keep the bands as close as is reasonable.
Consumers do look at law firm websites when making a decision as to their provider, as well as taking on board personal recommendations and the location of firms. So although pricing information is useful at this initial stage, do follow up clearly in client communication, via email, in standard care letters, and in your Ts and Cs with the specific price for the case or matter. It is of course equally important to provide pricing information to clients on request by alternative means if you don’t have a website. You are also obliged to make provision for any vulnerable clients.
Potential clients are interested in hearing about the key stages and typical timescales and what to expect at each stage, for example how often you plan to be in touch with them about their case or matter. A lack of communication from their solicitor can be a major frustration for users of legal services.
It is important to businesses and individuals who at the firm is going to do the work, as some worry that their work may be passed on to other staff within the firm. So make it clear the individuals and team members involved, what level of experience they have and the level of supervision that is provided, if relevant. Consumers (both SMEs and individuals) also look for solicitors who have specialist experience and a track record with cases like theirs as well as indicators of likely success rates. So it’s worth setting out on your website the individuals who work at the firm and their experience, qualifications and outcomes of their recent cases.
All firms are required to publish information as to how they will deal with complaints. This needs to cover how someone can complain to the firm about their. Should people wish to take the complaint further, they also have the option to complain to the Legal Ombudsman and to report the firm to the SRA. Your website needs to explain the process and provide contact details for the Legal Ombudsman and the SRA. There is wording on the SRA website if you need help with this.
We know from recent research that it can be daunting for consumers when choosing a legal advisor and this may mean that individuals don’t seek legal advice when it is needed. Clear, transparent pricing and plain communication can help to mitigate these barriers and ensure greater access to justice. For the law firm, transparency on pricing is not just a legal requirement, it can be a competitive advantage.
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Matthew is Head of Brand, PR and Content Marketing at LexisNexis. He has experience leading the PR and brand strategies for several global and corporate companies. Matthew has led high-profile sponsorship and brand strategy campaigns, including the British Gas’ sponsorship of British Swimming during the London 2012 Olympics. As a brand marketer, he has regularly secured front page coverage on national publications including the Times, Telegraph and the BBC. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from Durham University, a Professional Diploma in Marketing (CIM), a Fellowship of the Institute of Data and Marketing and is a Non-Executive Director of the European Sponsorship Association.
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