Today, the Legal Services Board (LSB) launched a consultation on a draft statutory statement of policy on empowering consumers. Developed following engagement with the legal services regulators and others across the sector, it outlines how the regulators should ensure that people and small businesses who need legal advice have the information they need to shop around and exercise choice.
The LSB is working with regulators to set expectations about ensuring legal services providers offer helpful information to consumers about the cost and quality of their services and on redress and regulation.
The LSB is also proposing that regulators implement effective programmes of activity to support public legal education, focusing on activities that support people to understand when they have a legal problem and how to access the professional help they need to resolve it. This includes, for example, contributing to meaningful cross-sector initiatives like the Legal Choices platform to improve the public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties.
The consultation follows the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) market study of legal services in 2016 and a further review in 2020. In both assessments, the CMA found that the market was not working in the best interests of consumers. It recommended that the regulators improve market transparency for consumers and the LSB to coordinate and oversee progress.
The draft statement comes following recent correspondence by the SRA to law firms requesting the completion of a questionnaire and signed declaration that the firm is compliant with the SRA Transparency Rules. The SRA has also updated its “Transparency in price and service” guidance which now includes factors to consider if, for example, you are using an online quote calculators and fixed fees.
The LSB welcomes the progress by the regulators since the CMA’s 2020 review and sees opportunities for continued collaboration to address the challenges that face consumers engaging effectively with the market. The recently established Market Transparency Co-ordination and Oversight Group, chaired by the LSB, will provide a forum for this collaboration.
Helen Phillips, Chair of the LSB, said:
“For too long, too many people and small businesses who need legal support have been unable to navigate the legal services market and get the help they need. We want to work with the regulators to build on the progress made so far and make it easier for consumers to make informed and effective choices when choosing a legal services provider.
“The draft statutory statement is a proportionate and targeted regulatory tool to drive progress by the regulators, and it sets a general principle that they should work collaboratively to address the challenges in this area. By working together, we can transform the relationships between consumers and legal services providers and promote a culture of increased transparency, openness, and accountability.
“We look forward to receiving feedback on the draft statement.”
The draft statement draws on a wealth of evidence, including the LSB’s research, the CMA’s analysis, the LSB’s discussion paper on quality indicators, research with the LSB’s Public Panel, and contributions from stakeholders across the sector, including the regulators.
The consultation will run for 12 weeks, from 15 September 2021 until 8 December 2021.