Information about solicitors past mistakes may be made available to comparison websites, says the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The regulator is looking at long-term strategic solutions to help consumers choose their solicitors. “The sort of information we’re looking at publishing includes enforcement action, practice conditions, complaints and claims data – things that I would want to know when choosing a solicitor,” said Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive.
Paul Philip was speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum on 12 September 2016 with a focus on reforms to reduce the cost of providing legal services. He is concerned that “two thirds of the public think that professional legal services are simply too expensive. And small businesses agree.” He revealed that just 14 percent of small businesses say solicitors provide a good value way to resolve their problems.
The SRA believes that more needs to be done to reduce costs “It’s not all about price; this is about delivering the right service, at the right price and at the right time.” Paul Philip says that the regulator can help to open up a competitive market, reduce the burden of bureaucracy and costs for law firms and make information work for consumers.
He pointed to the law firm search launched on the SRA website earlier this year which provides basic information such as firms’ addresses and contact information. Paul Philip would now like to go further by adding information about firms’ regulatory records and also making the information available to comparison websites. “We want the information to be available to all data re-publishers, not just those in the legal sector, as the market is best placed to develop comparison tools that deliver real choice to consumers.”
Other steps to reduce cost include breaking down barriers to entry to the profession by introducing Alternative Business Structures (ABS), enabling solicitors to provide legal advice while working within unregulated businesses, reducing bureaucracy and making the rule book less prescriptive. “We are moving away from complex and confusing rules to concentrate on principles we can all agree with,” he says.
The regulator is also looking at other areas where regulation can reduce costs for firms. Paul Philip pointed to the discussion document issued by the SRA last year on making PII requirements more flexible and more risk based.
“Paul Philip has been clear that he wants to reduce costs for solicitors, but many of his proposals are controversial and have caused concern in the profession,” said James Page, Director – Head of Client Servicing, Brunel Professional Risks. “One area we can all agree on are efforts to increase the availability and reduce the cost of professional indemnity insurance. Providing PII cover is a significant cost burden to many firms. We work tirelessly with all our clients to find the most competitive and appropriate cover for their practices.”