Legal price transparency – it’s not just about price.

Legal price transparency

Legal price transparency regulations came into force in December 2018. However, transparency on pricing is not their sole aim.

The real aims of the new rules extend further than producing simple price lists. Part of the rationale behind them is to achieve higher levels of client satisfaction. Or fewer, complaints to the Ombudsman, depending upon how you look at things.

In many senses, price transparency is a blunt instrument. It tackles one area of communication where things go wrong. The real challenge is getting the whole client communication mix right. Before tackling that issue, let’s take a look at exactly what the regulations cover.

What does price transparency cover?

It doesn’t cover everything, but these are the key areas of law:

  • Conveyancing (residential).
  • Probate (uncontested).
  • Motoring offences (summary offences).
  • Immigration (excluding asylum).
  • Employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal).
  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000).
  • Licensing applications (business premises).

Your firm is required to present the information in a clear and easy to understand way and also:

  • Provide a total cost, if this is not possible provide an average or range of costs.
  • Explain the basis of your charges, including any hourly rate or fixed fees.
  • Highlight likely disbursements, and their costs.
  • Be clear on whether prices include VAT.
  • For conditional or damages-based fees, explain when clients may have to make payments.

For service information you must:

  • Explain what services the quoted price includes.
  • Highlight any services not included within the price, which a client may reasonably expect to be
  • Include information on key stages and typical timescales of these
  • Publish the qualifications and experience of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors

Firms without a website should make this information available upon request in other formats.

Is it working?

Well, if you Google “solicitor price transparency” and visit a few law firm websites, you could be forgiven for thinking not. Many of the pages listing so called transparent prices for various legal services look more like excruciatingly byzantine contracts! No names, no pack drill. However, they do perfectly illustrate a problem the legal profession has had for years: the inability to properly cost services. Without this, it is difficult to draft fee estimates that make sense to clients.

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding. In the early days, the SRA’s emphasis is on collaboration with law firms. Presumably castigation comes later.

How to get it right.

What you see from the many websites is a formulaic approach. That has come from the SRA’s own guidance notes. Perhaps that’s no bad thing as a starting point. It sets out a clearer picture for clients from the outset. That should be built upon as the work and the relationship progresses.

So, what is the next stage? Price is just one area where good communication is essential. In the modern digital world, ongoing communication throughout the course of transactions is as vital. This means managing expectations from start to finish.

Communication Protocols.

Build these into your methodologies for handling different types of matters. Or, better still, make them part and parcel of the way your practice management software handles cases. For example, when you reach a critical point in a conveyancing transaction, make sure your client is informed automatically. Or, when a deadline is unlikely to be met, give prior warning. Don’t wait for your client to chase you up.

Online communication.

Face-to-face meetings and phone calls are being replaced rapidly by online as the clients’ communication medium of choice. In fact, the degree to which this requirement is taking hold often leaves clients who do not receive timely notifications feeling left out. Worse, many believe that you are not being fully transparent and not delivering what you promised at the time you promised it.

Even a brief email or text telling your client that the matter has not progressed as expected will provide reassurance. As long as you back it up with a revised schedule.

Client portal?

It’s not just email and text that demonstrate your start-to-finish transparency. Most of your clients will have made online purchases of various varieties. When they did, they automatically received access to the vendor’s online “portal”. This tells them the status of the purchase and anticipated fulfilment times and dates. Clients expect no less from you.

If they can log in to their account with you and see matter progress at the press of a button, they have the reassurance that things are on track – provided you have updated the portal. Updating your portal might just seem like another administrative chore that can be easily overlooked. That could be the case if your portal is a stand-alone piece of software unconnected to your practice management system.

The best client portals, like LawWare’s own, are fully integrated into your PMS. By granting access to the portal to your clients you can select which information, case notes or documentation they can see and allow them to keep up to speed on the progress of their case as it happens. Integration with the PMS removes the chore element as all case progress is updated automatically to the portal.

The bottom line.

So, rather than it just being a question of price transparency, it’s more a case of managing client expectations from start to finish. If you get it right, you will have the most powerful new business development tool of all – satisfied clients. They will come back to you in the future. They will tell their contacts about you and recommend you. Satisfied clients will act as mini ambassadors for your firm.

So, embrace the new rules – and take them that small step further.

Mike O’Donnell, January 2019.

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