Law firms face increased scrutiny from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over the Transparency Rules (the Rules) which came into force back in December 2018.
The Rules require law firms to publish price and service information on their website, or other formats if there is no website, for work they carry out, such as conveyancing and probate. The aim is to ensure the public have accurate and relevant information about a solicitor or legal firm when they are considering purchasing legal services to make an informed decision – improving competition in the legal marketplace.
The SRA have provided guidance for law firms they regulate, who are required to publish information on prices and services they offer under Rule 1 of the SRA Transparency Rules – which will be useful to all firms who want to be clear about their price and service information.
Regular monitoring of law firms for compliance with the Rules has taken place. This typically includes carrying out random audits of law firms to ensure they are meeting the requirements on transparency around price and service. Any solicitors or law firm located in England and Wales that carry out work in specific areas of law will have to adhere to the Rules and partake in audits – and so the regulator has been inviting firms to make a declaration that their website is compliant.
The SRA has remained transparent themselves, reporting on their sweep of 447 live websites back in 2019. The findings of their report confirmed only 25% of firms were fully compliant with the Rules. In the other 75%, 58% were partially compliant and 17% were not compliant with the Rules at all.
Following the outcome of these findings they confirmed that there would be regular six- monthly web sweeps, reviewing 600 law firm websites on each sweep.
In October 2020, the chief executive of the SRA, Paul Philip, confirmed that following a temporary pause of this work during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, work to assess levels of compliance would resume. In his monthly update to the SRA board, it was revealed that a survey of 470 firms in July had indicated that compliance levels are improving but a ‘small minority’ have either ignored enquiries or not provided sufficient assurance.
At the time Philip said:
“We will be following these issues up over the coming weeks and will make further referrals into our disciplinary procedures if required. We will also be writing to further cohorts of firms over the next four months to assess ongoing levels of compliance.”
But in Early 2021 the SRA found compliance with its transparency rules still remained far too low and have been using their powers since to take disciplinary action against non-compliant firms. In January 2021 alone nine firms were either rebuked or fined for not adhering to the Rules – and they have confirmed work in this area will continue as they persistently check law firms’ websites for compliancy going forward.
To help law firms expectations and preparation for SRA audits, the regulator has issued guidance, alongside a Q&A area, to help all solicitors and law firms understand their requirements and obligations and how best to meet them.
Legal Eye works with law firms to ensure compliance and optimise performance as they understand the pressures associated with SRA audits and audits in general – which is why they are best placed to help your business complete this process.
Providing bespoke advice and flexible packages on applying the guidance mandated by the regulator which is tailored to your firm – depending on your requirements. The team uses their detailed knowledge and experience, both of the regulations and of how other firms are implementing the changes, to help you to compile and present your price and service transparency website information. Pricing presentation will be covered, representation of ‘service’ including how to deal with complaints information and, where required, we’ll facilitate gathering together biographies of relevant members of staff in order to comply with the requirement to show who will be carrying out the work.
The SRA are checking YOUR websites. Ensure your firm is adhering to the transparency rules and get in touch today. Contact Legal Eye on 020 3051 2049 or email [email protected]