From December 2018 the Solicitors Regulation Authority has decreed that all law firms must provide user friendly price and service information for a range of common services.
This requirement mean that solicitors will need to provide clear information on pricing (and what that price includes), typical timescales and the experience and qualifications of staff undertaking the work. This information will need to be published in a prominent location on the firm’s website.
The requirement for price disclosure does not extend to all legal services, but law firms will be required to provide information for those services most commonly utilised by consumers.
The services covered by the mandate include:
- Motoring Offences
- Employment Tribunals
- Debt Recovery
- Licensing Applications
There will inevitably be a lot of work going on behind the scenes at law firms across the country to amend their websites to meet this requirement but we thought it would be worthwhile to undertake a quick review of what’s out there currently in terms of open pricing information for the designated service areas.
Conveyancing is the area where information on pricing is most readily available but even then most firms don’t disclose details. Beeston Shenton, a Cheshire firm that operates the Move Home Faster website has one of the best and simplest solutions we’ve seen to what is a quite complex service because of all the associated disbursements.
You might think that probate would be relatively easy to deal with from a fixed pricing model but again very few firms seem to have got to grips with the issue. We had great difficulty trying to find a solicitors practice that provided pricing information upfront for this service type.
The company doing it best, in our opinion, is a will writing company Steele Rose Legal Services. Their probate calculator provides very clear information including an indication of timescales just as required by the SRA.
Motoring solicitors seems very keen on providing calculators that tell the user how many points, fines and length of ban an accused is likely to receive but a they’re a lot less up-front about how much they’ll charge to try to get you off.
Many firms discuss offering fixed fees but in our research we didn’t discover one that declared how much it would cost for a specific offence like drunk driving.
A few firms say what their minimum fees are but we couldn’t find anyone who nailed down their charges.
The new guidance requires firms to disclose their fees for unfair or wrongful dismissal tribunal claims for both individuals and the companies they might be claiming against.
We were unable to find any firm that disclosed their fees for the claimant and could only find one firm Paris Smith that gave information on their prices for businesses, even that information was hidden on a downloadable document that was relatively difficult to find on the firms website.
The guidance requires firms to disclose their fees for immigration cases with the exception of asylum applications.
Again very few firms are doing a good job of being up-front about their charges, quite a few detail the home office visa application charges but few get into the detail of what they charge for processing any applications.
The one exception we found was Dicksons Solicitors who lay out their fees quite clearly but then don’t set out the associated Home Office charges.
Debt Recovery Fees
The guidance requires firms who are providing recovery services for debts of up to £100,000 to declare the fees they would charge.
The best example we've been able to find of a firm being transparent over pricing in this area is Burnetts. They provide a very effective page detailing what they charge for a letter before action and include a link to downloadable documents detailing their other charges (depending on jurisdiction as they do some work in Scotland)
The problem is that the information whist it’s very detailed is a bit too complex to put a price together for the job. It probably needs to be simplified a bit to a package price containing a defined set of typical deliverables to do the job.
Firms providing services in support of premises licensing applications will also need to detail their fees.
Again very few firms seem to have got to grips with communicating their pricing. PopplestonAllen has a good page that details the costs of the actual licences but it doesn’t detail how much they’d charge to help you apply.
Kitsons provide information on what they would typically charge for different jobs but then don’t tell you what the disbursements would be.
Both firms need to be commended for already providing some of the required detail when most others don’t but they do need to do it better.
So what should your firm do?
You really need to be getting to grips with this issue quickly, there seems to be very little detail about what the SRA are actually expecting in terms of clarity and transparency but it certainly won’t be acceptable to do nothing.
The optimal solution would seem to be something along the line of what Beeston Shenton and Steele Rose have done in their areas of expertise. However, they too will need to add information about the experience and expertise of the people typically undertaking the work and provide timescales.
However, not all law firm websites will be set up in such a way as to allow this type of configurator cost effectively and so something simpler is likely to be acceptable. It’s doubtful that a simple list of charges and disbursement costs will be sufficient – you should perhaps be considering typical scenarios which you can cost up. For example what does it normally take to recover a £50,000 debt or what’s involved in a typical unfair dismissal claim case.
By itemising what’s in and what’s out firms will still be afforded some flexibility if things get more complex.