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Ethics Guidance – Transparency in Price and Service

16th November, 2018

New guidance issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) on 2 October 2018 details changes to be made to the way regulated law firms and individual freelance solicitors make information available about costs and services to clients and potential clients.

It is reported that a quarter of all complaints dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman revolve around costs. Therefore to avoid complaints and confusion, it is important to be clear from the outset.

The new Transparency Rules (which the SRA have now confirmed will come into effect on 6 December 2018) require that accurate and relevant information is given to consumers when considering purchasing certain legal services in order to help them make informed choices about their legal provider and promote healthy competition in the legal market.

The SRA’s guidance reads as follows:

For members of the public

  • Residential conveyancing (Freehold sale or purchase, leasehold sale or purchase, mortgages and re-mortgages)
  • Probate (uncontested cases with all assets in the UK)
  • Motoring offences (summary only offences)
  • Employment tribunals (claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal)
  • Immigration (excluding asylum applications)

For businesses

  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000)
  • Employment tribunals (defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal)
  • Licensing applications for business premises (new applications or varying existing licenses)”

There is a further requirement under the Rules to publish (in a prominent location on the website which is easily accessible and clear to find) the following information:

  • “What services are included within the displayed price
  • Any services not included in the price that might reasonably be expected to be included
  • Details of the experience and qualifications of teams/individuals who will carry out the work
  • Typical timescales and key stages of the matter”

Mandatory requirements in respect of publishing price information

The SRA lists the following requirements:

  • “You must provide price information prominently, in as clear and understandable format as possible
  • You must specify whether stated prices include VAT
  • You must specify exactly what is included within the price displayed. This is important even if you quote a fixed fee to avoid confusion amongst consumers about what they might need to pay extra for
  • If you publish a range of costs, you need to set out the basis for your charges, including any hourly rates and the types of factors that will determine what the final price will be
  • If you offer your services in different ways and the delivery model impacts on the price, make this clear. For example, if you charge a higher fee for face-to-face services than for strictly online services
  • If using an online quote generator, the generator must produce a quote directly without requiring any additional contact, for example someone calling to discuss the quote”

Mandatory requirements in respect of publishing service information

The SRA lists the following requirements:

  • “What services are included within the displayed price
  • Any services not included in the price that might reasonably be expected to be included
  • Typical timescales and key stages for the given legal service (overall cost)
  • The experience and qualifications of all individuals who carry out work within the areas specified under the Transparency Rules. This may include:
    • number of years post-qualification experience
    • estimated numbers or examples of cases they have dealt with in given areas
    • percentage of their time spent on given areas
    • complexity or type of issues they typically deal with
  • The experience and qualifications of those who supervise the individuals who will be carrying out the work”

Points to note

  • Notwithstanding the new Transparency Rules, outcome 1.13 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 will always be applicable i.e. providing the best possible cost information both at the outset and as the matter progresses.
  • Where there is no website, cost and service information must be readily available in an alternative format.
  • The Transparency Rules provide the minimum level of price and service information. It is therefore encouraged to provide additional information where possible to aid consumer understanding.
  • There is no requirement under the Rules to publish a binding quote when using an online price generator. However, you must ensure compliance with data protection legislation when handling consumer data.
  • For Conditional Fee arrangements and where you want to assess the viability of a case before accepting it, you should state how long it is likely to take to do that and what cost will be involved.
  • Where unforeseen circumstances arise meaning costs are likely to increase, the client should be informed promptly and given a revised estimate.

 

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