On 6 December 2018, the SRA Transparency Rules came into force requiring law firms to publish certain price, service and regulatory information. Sarah Brodie (Law Society policy adviser) outlines the detail.
So what is required?
The SRA Transparency Rules mandate that firms must publish price and service information on their websites (or on request if a firm doesn’t have a website) for the following areas of law:
Individual clients—residential conveyancing, probate, immigration (except asylum), road traffic offences, and employment tribunal claims (unfair/wrongful dismissal);
Business clients—employment tribunal claims (unfair/wrongful dismissal), debt recovery (up to £100,000), and licensing applications for business premises.
For the specified areas of law, firms are required to publish the:
- total cost of the service (or the average costs or range of costs);
- basis of your charges;
- experience and qualifications of anyone carrying out the work;
- likely disbursements (and whether they attract VAT);
- services included in the price stated (including key stages of the matter and likely time frames); and
- if conditional fee or damages-based agreements are used, the circumstances in which clients may have to make any payments themselves for your services.
All firms, regardless of area of practice, will also need to publish details of their complaints procedure and display the SRA’s digital badge. The digital badge is now available for firms to use but display of the digital badge will not be mandatory until Spring 2019 (date to be confirmed).
While the rules impose additional burdens on firms, it is possible to make the SRA’s required changes work for you rather than against you. The Law Society has put out a Practice Note on how you can comply with the new minimum requirements, but we’ve set out some key tips below.
Make your website an effective tool
You may need to review the suitability of your firm’s website provider as information which you are required to publish could require updating or changing on a regular basis, particularly if you are publishing detailed hourly rates or the cost of disbursements change (e.g. court fees). Some website providers and administrators will allow changes to be made by you or your firm directly, and some may not. You will need to ensure that you have the capabilities to change information as necessary.
Differentiate your firm
It is important for you to demonstrate the value that clients get from using your firm and your experience and expertise across relevant practice areas
You are required to publish the services included in the price displayed, including the key stages of the matter and likely timescales. Use this to your advantage and be clear about the range of services you are providing. It may be the case that a firm prices their services lower than yours, but does not offer the range of services you do.
The new rules are minimum requirements. You are therefore free to publish further information on your website if you wish to do so. For example, you could provide customer testimonials or any relevant industry publications.
Be clear about the price you are publishing
The Transparency Rules aim to ensure that the consumer has sufficient information upfront to provide a good indication of the likely costs.
If you are publishing an average cost it should be clear that any prices shown are only estimates, and that a full case specific quote or estimate can be obtained by contacting you. If publishing a fixed fee, you should be clear about what the price includes and excludes.
You should also ensure that where you set out a price for your service, you set parameters on the nature of the problem you are advising on in that scenario. This will help a client to judge how your services may be priced in relation to their own matter. You should also list factors that could increase overall costs.
Make your information easy to understand and accessible
You are required to publish cost information in a clear and accessible way, and in a prominent place on your website. To make your information more readable to clients you should:
- keep content as brief as possible;
- avoid jargon and use plain language; and
- display cost information as ‘close’ to your homepage as possible (no more than two clicks away).
A version of this article was published in the December 2018 edition of the Law Society’s Civil Litigation Section newsletter. ?
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