SRA Transparency Rules: Web sweep report

6 June 2019

Background

The SRA Transparency Rules came into force on 6 December 2018 and require firms to publish price and service information if they publish, as part of their usual business, the availability of certain common services:

  • Residential conveyancing
  • Probate
  • Motoring offences
  • Immigration
  • Employment tribunals (public and businesses)
  • Licensing applications (businesses)
  • Debt recovery (businesses)

The rules also require all firms with a website to publish details of their complaints procedure, including how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman or to us.

We provide a range of guidance supporting firms to meet our requirements, including examples of how to publish the information and example templates for doing this.

In February 2019, we published a 'topic guide' setting out our approach to enforcement of the Transparency Rules. In this we said that, in addition to dealing with reports received, we would use a range of proactive tools to identify non-compliance. These include:

  • Thematic reviews and engagement with firms
  • Working with consumer groups to raise awareness
  • Random web sweeps

In line with this approach we publicly confirmed that the first such web sweeps would take place during March/April 2019. The following report outlines the findings of these sweeps, and what follow-up action we will be taking as a result.

Headline findings

We randomly selected a sample of 500 law firm websites to review. This sample featured websites operated by a variety of firm types, locations and sizes. We specifically targeted firms who provided at least one of the services covered by our rules but 118 firms included in the web sweep did not publicise that they offered one of those services and therefore for those firms our review was confined to checking whether they provided the required complaints information.

Of the selected sample, 53 sites were found to either not be working or were still under construction. The following results are based on our review of the remaining 447 sites.

Of these sites:

  • 25% were fully complying
  • 58% were partially complying
  • 17% were not complying with the rules at all

The most common areas of non-compliance were a failure to:

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

Complaints

More than half (52%) of firms were found not be displaying any complaints information.

Price and service

In relation to price and service information, the highest levels of full compliance related to probate (29%) and conveyancing (25%), which were also the services most commonly offered across the firms surveyed.

For most services the total full/partial compliance rate ranged from 75% to 90%.

The service area with the lowest level of full/partial compliance was immigration, with only 67% of firms complying in full/part. This means that one third of firms were not providing any of the required information. Given this is an area where many potential clients may not have English as a first language or be as familiar with the legal system as in other areas, this is particularly concerning.

Read a more detailed breakdown of the web sweep results

Read our compliance tips

What happens next

We are writing to all firms whose websites were identified as not being fully complaint with the Transparency Rules explaining the areas in which they need to make changes.

For firms found not to be complying with any of the rules (78 in total) we have said that we will check their websites again in two months' time. If at that point we find they are still not publishing the required information we will consider what further regulatory action, including potential enforcement action, is required.

For firms found to be only partially complying with the rules (257 in total) we are making it clear which areas they need to work on in order to fully comply. These firms will be targeted in future web sweeps to check that the required changes have been made.

In the future, we will conduct regular six monthly web sweeps, reviewing 600 law firm websites on each sweep. While generally these sweeps will continue to look at a representative cross-section of firms, we will also target a higher proportion of firms providing immigration services, until we are satisfied that firms providing services in this high-risk area are complying with our requirements.

We also plan to conduct a thematic review into this area during 2020.

Alongside our work to ensure that people can find the information they need, we will continue to raise awareness with the public through our wide communications and close working with advocacy and consumer groups

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