Price transparency for professional practices – a first toe in the water?
At the end of December 2018 The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced price transparency requirements, which have had wide implications for a large majority of law firms in the UK. The aim of this change was to enable potential clients to be better informed by removing uncertainty regarding fee structures. The SRA are the first regulatory body to implement such changes, but others may wish to follow suit should it prove to be successful.
The price transparency requirements seek to assist members of the public and businesses by improving the clarity of pricing and thus enabling potential clients to make a more informed choice about which law firm they wish to instruct. The implementation of these new requirements has proved to be a big administrative burden for many firms, with many hours invested into ensuring that firm’s websites are compliant. There have even been stories of firms deleting their websites in order to avoid having to comply! However, the relevant information should still be readily available should a prospective client request it.
Lawyers regulated by the SRA will fall within the scope of the new rules if they practice in the following areas:
- Residential conveyancing
- Motoring offences
- Uncontested probate
- Immigration (excluding asylum)
- Employment tribunals
- Debt recovery up to £100,000
- Licencing applications
On their website, law firms are required to disclose the prices they charge and provide information on the services that they offer in a concise manner.
This would include stating whether the prices are VAT inclusive or exclusive and also how the fee will be calculated. This may simply be a fixed fee, or could be charged as an hourly rate. Other costs, such as disbursements, must also be considered. If a total cost cannot be provided, then a range of costs would be deemed appropriate, with many firms choosing to include an ‘average’.
As well as prices and services, firms are required to outline an expected timescale for each service they provide, which is challenging due to the ambiguous nature of work types such as probate and conveyancing where factors can be outside of the client or the solicitor firm’s control. Details of the primary staff who work in these areas should also be included on the website, including but not limited to their experience and qualifications. The timescales should be broken down in to the key stages expected for each matter.
Pricing, services and timescales must be disclosed on a law firms’ website and the information will need to be accessible, clear and accurate.
The change has proved to be challenging for some firms to be compliant and there will have been additional costs incurred as a result of editing and updating website content. Nonetheless, it has been a positive step by the SRA which has improved the accessibility of information and helped to remove ambiguity for prospective clients. Other regulatory bodies such as Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) may decide to take similar steps as a result.
For further information please speak with your usual Kreston Reeves contact or Charlotte Coates here or on +44 (0)330 124 1399.
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