Legal Business Blogs

‘Step change in standards’: CMA sets timeline to improve price transparency in legal services

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said clients are struggling to find legal services at the right value following its year-long review into legal services industry.

In its report published today (15 December), the CMA said the current regulatory framework for legal services ‘may not be sustainable in the long term’ and recommended the Ministry of Justice review the system.

One key recommendation was for better disclosure of pricing information, with the CMA finding only 17% of firms publish prices online. The report, launched in January this year, called for ‘a step change in standards of transparency’ on pricing and the regulatory status of providers.

The report set out a timeline for regulators to establish changes. By 31 January 2017 the regulators will be expected to establish a joint programme board; by 30 June to have a response from the regulator; and by 30 September to launch a consultation into regulatory changes to improve transparency.

The watchdog made four recommendations to the industry’s regulators: a minimum standard for disclosure on price; additional feedback on the quality of service provided; more accessible data and comparison tools from regulators; and the development of a consumer education hub.

The report also called for changes to restrictions on where solicitors can work, a finding questioned by Law Society president Robert Bourns. Bourns said: ‘It is astonishing that some of the CMA’s recommendations prioritise deregulation over consumer protection.

‘If solicitors were to offer legal services from unregulated companies, as suggested by the CMA, then their clients would no longer enjoy a raft of protections – from confidentiality to compensation – offered by every solicitor in a solicitor firm.’

However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is pushing for greater independence from the Law Society, welcomed calls in the report for reforms to regulators.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip (pictured) said: ‘The report makes a good case for regulation that is independent of both representation and government, echoing the SRA view that independent regulation is key for public confidence and will help increase public trust in the sector.’

See the full CMA report here.