As the process of making buying and selling more transparent continues to gather pace, the body that regulates conveyancers says it is to mandate firms to publish their service standards and prices online.
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers says this is to help consumers make informed choices when they need a lawyer, and to encourage CLC-regulated firms to use the transparency drive to differentiate themselves better and attract clients.
It says this could include opening up to third-party feedback platforms and price comparison websites, but their use will not be made mandatory.
Last autumn the CLC issued a consultation entitled Helping Consumers Choose their Lawyer - Service, Quality and Price Transparency.
This proposed steps to implement the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority’s 2016 report that found a lack of transparency was hindering competition in the legal market.
The CLC has now launched a new consultation on the regulatory changes required to effect some of its reforms. It says that subject to approval by the Legal Services Board, the new rules should be in place by the end of 2018.
CLC-regulated firms are currently required to provide cost, service and regulatory information at the point they are instructed; in future, they will be required to make cost information, including whether they have referral arrangements, readily accessible on their website and in alternative formats on request.
How this is presented will not be prescribed, but the CLC will publish best practice guidance along with cost estimate templates to ensure quotes are comprehensive and comparable.
The consultation also suggests that CLC firms consider providing an instant online quote generator on its website or on a third-party website. Recent research sponsored by the CLC found that online quote generators can help secure more clients.
However, the CLC is urging firms to focus on promoting the features and quality of their services rather than simply price as this “will increase the opportunity for CLC practices to differentiate themselves from competitors and appeal to clients on grounds other than just price”.
In detail, the consultation recommends that CLC-regulated firms consider stating upfront and online information about the staff mix and their qualifications, the mode of delivering the service (for example, face-to-face or online) along with the company’s specific areas of expertise and typical client profile (for example, first time buyers).
It also suggests that its regulated companies consider including feedback from clients on third-party platforms like Trustpilot and Feefo.
“The firms we regulate will be facing new requirements and we expect them to be open and transparent. But we do not want to be overly prescriptive in how they can take advantage of this new era of transparency – we are looking to firms to find their own approaches which fit best with their business models and styles of service” says CLC chair Dame Janet Paraskeva.
“We believe there is a real opportunity for those that focus on service quality – research repeatedly shows that home movers do not simply choose a conveyancer on price, but they need to know, and quickly, why they should go with a particular firm. Some CLC regulated firms are already finding new and better ways to do this.
“Firms will need to give a lot of thought to how to present this information and turn these challenges into the opportunity we know they are.”
The consultation closes on June 29 and you can see what it says here.