SRA review of Transparency Rules compliance: The results revealed

Thursday 26th September 2019

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This article is provided in association with Infolegal

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has recently reported on its review of the degree of compliance with the Transparency Rules which took effect in December last year. Given how easy it has been for the regulator to assess compliance with this part of its regime through a ‘web sweep’ of law firms’ websites from its offices, and given that the SRA provided ample warnings that it would be doing so in its Enforcement Strategy published in February 2019, the degree of non-compliance is perhaps surprising.

The review exercise involved the SRA visiting the websites of a sample of 500 law firms to establish to what extent they were publishing price and service information, primarily about the legal services for which price and related information is required under the Transparency Rules. These include such mainstream services as residential conveyancing and probate for individuals and debt recovery for business clients.

The exercise revealed that over 10% of the websites selected (53) were either not working or still under construction. Of the remaining 447 sites:

  • 25% were fully compliant with every aspect of the Transparency Rules,
  • 58% were partially compliant, and
  • 17% did not comply with the rules at all.

The most common areas of non-compliance were failures to:

  • publish the required complaints information,
  • specify the amount of VAT applied to costs and disbursements,
  • display information on key stages and/or timescales, or
  • provide a description or costs of likely disbursements.

All firms are required to provide complaints handling information regardless of the range of services on offer, yet the review revealed that 52% of the firms checked were failing to do so. Among firms carrying out conveyancing work, roughly half failed to provide information on key stages and timescales, while among firms offering motoring offences work, around three-quarters failed to provide a description or cost of likely disbursements.

What should firms be doing now?

For those firms that have not yet done anything it is essential to make a start: the SRA is likely to be far more understanding of the firm that has at least shown willing than those that have not yet tried at all. The required content is set out reasonably clearly in the rules and their accompanying guidance.

Do make sure that the notice is easy to find on your website. Bear in mind you need to provide information about anyone involved in carrying out the legal work, which might go beyond partners or solicitors. Individuals don’t need to be named in all cases – for example if you have a large team of paralegals – but their type of experience and qualifications do need to be given.

Don’t forget that any disbursements likely to be incurred must be listed along with the cost for each one. Where the disbursement cost is genuinely unknown, you must provide an average or likely range of costs. Make sure it is clear whether your costs and disbursements attract VAT and, if so, how much the VAT will be. As a minimum, you must say which costs attract VAT and the rate that VAT will be charged at.

Finally, remember that from 25 November 2019 it will also be a requirement for all firms to display the SRA’s digital badge – now referred to as its ‘clickable logo’.

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