Ethics guidance

Transparency in price and service

Issued on 2 October 2018

Status

This document does not form part of the SRA Handbook.

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is for firms we regulate, who are required to publish information on prices and services they offer under Rule 1 of the SRA Transparency Rules (PDF 9 pages, 207KB). (These are due to come into effect in December 2018). It may also be helpful to all firms who want to be transparent about their price and service information.

Purpose of this guidance

This guidance is to help you understand your obligations under our new Transparency Rules. It helps you to understand ways in which you might comply with those obligation, as well as providing wider best practice advice and example templates. These are designed to help you consider how you might display the required information to make it as accessible as possible to your customers. You are not required to use the specific templates, they are provided for guidance only.

The new Transparency Rules

The aim of our new Transparency Rules is to make sure consumers have the information they need to make an informed choice of legal services provider, including understanding what the costs may be.

Set to come into effect in December 2018, the rules will require all regulated law firms, and individual freelance solicitors (subject to the introduction of such being approved by the LSB) who publish as part of their usual business that they offer certain services, to publish information on the prices they charge. These services are:

For members of the public

  • Residential conveyancing (Freehold sale or purchase, leasehold sale or purchase, mortgages and re-mortgages)
  • Probate (uncontested cases with all assets in the UK)
  • Motoring offences (summary only offences)
  • Employment tribunals (claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal)
  • Immigration (excluding asylum applications)

For businesses

  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000)
  • Employment tribunals (defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal)
  • Licensing applications for business premises (new applications or varying existing licenses)

As well as prices, the rules also require you to publish information on:

  • what services are included within the displayed price
  • any services not included in the price that might reasonably be expected to be included
  • details of the experience and qualifications of teams/individuals who will carry out the work
  • typical timescales and key stages of the matter

This information must be published in a prominent location on your website, which is accessible, clearly signposted and easy for visitors to find.

For those without a website, this information must be readily available upon request in another format. People should not be required to provide detailed information before they can obtain it.

Our Transparency Rules set out the minimum price and service information you must provide. We encourage you to provide additional information where that would help consumers understand the services you offer and the costs of your services.

Being clear about this will help to avoid misunderstandings and cost related complaints later in the transaction.

Publishing price information

One quarter of all complaints dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman relate to costs. Being clear at the outset can help avoid confusion and complaints later down the line.

This guidance does not seek to specify what pricing models you use, or the prices you charge. Its purpose is to make sure that information on costs and services is as readily available to the public as possible, in a format that is accurate and easy for them to understand.

Mandatory requirements

  • You must provide price information prominently, in as clear and understandable format as possible
  • You must specify whether stated prices include VAT
  • You must specify exactly what is included within the price displayed. This is important even if you quote a fixed fee to avoid confusion amongst consumers about what they might need to pay extra for
  • If you publish a range of costs, you need to set out the basis for your charges, including any hourly rates and the types of factors that will determine what the final price will be
  • If you offer your services in different ways and the delivery model impacts on the price, make this clear. For example, if you charge a higher fee for face-to-face services than for strictly online services
  • If using an online quote generator, the generator must produce a quote directly without requiring any additional contact, for example someone calling to discuss the quote

When using an online price generator you should also ensure that you are compliant with data protection legislation when handling data from consumers or clients

The rules do not require you to publish a binding quote for each and every scenario which you may deal with, for example, pre-empting unusual complexities or that a client may not follow your advice.

When an unforeseen complexity arises or where the way in which a client asks you to proceed means additional work, you should inform the client of this and provide revised costs information.

You should bear in mind that your already existing obligations under the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 remain relevant. Particularly outcome 1.13 on providing clients with the best possible information about the likely overall cost, both at the time of engagement and when appropriate as the matter progresses.

Best practice tips

In addition to the mandatory requirements, you may also want to consider the following in specific circumstances:

  • list factors that could increase or decrease overall costs
  • where the range of costs is quite wide, consider providing an average cost
  • consider how consumers like to interact with price information, for example research shows that when using an online price generator people do not like being forced to provide personal information such as email addresses or phone numbers. (See our conveyancing template for an example of information you could request when using a price generator.)
  • you do not need to specify any preferential rates which you may offer. You may, however, wish to advise that these are available upon request to specific groups, for example, returning clients or via employee benefits schemes.

Conditional Fee arrangements

If you are using a conditional fee agreement (CFA) / damages-based agreement (DBA) and want to assess the viability of a case before agreeing to accept it, to meet the requirement in relation to the provision of likely timescales, you should clarify on your website how long you will spend doing that assessment. You should also set out what (if any) cost this will lead to for the consumer.

We do not expect you to set out all the legal detail of the CFA on your website. However, if you use this type of agreement you are required to set out the circumstances in which clients have to make any payments themselves, including from any damages.

Publishing service information

As well as prices, the new rules also require you to provide information on the service which will be provided.

Mandatory requirements

You must provide details of:

  • what services are included within the displayed price
  • any services not included in the price that might reasonably be expected to be included
  • typical timescales and key stages for the given legal service (you are not required to provide cost information for each individual stage, just a total cost)
  • the experience and qualifications of all individuals who carry out work within the areas specified under the Transparency Rules. This may include:
    • number of years post-qualification experience
    • estimated numbers or examples of cases they have dealt with in given areas
    • percentage of their time spent on given areas
    • complexity or type of issues they typically deal with
     
  • the experience and qualifications of those who supervise the individuals who will be carrying out the work, although you do not need to necessarily specify who supervises who.

Best practice tips

In addition to the mandatory requirements, we would also recommend you:

  • explain any technical terms (such as disbursements) in plain English
  • avoid using over complicated terms or legal jargon
  • when providing information about the key stages of a matter, you may wish to link to information on other websites as long as you have taken reasonable steps to ensure its accuracy. We recommend using trusted sources such as gov.uk or Legal Choices
  • provide examples of the typical clients or types of transactions your firm has experience of dealing with (be careful not to disclose anything confidential or that would identify the client)
  • provide information about any particular expertise or specialism you have within a given area
  • consider having information available in easier to read formats, or languages other than English.

Information on individuals or teams does not need to be on the same page as the price information and you may for example already have this information within wider biographies or 'who's who' sections within your site.

Example of how to display team/individual details

Our team has over X years of collective experience in delivering high quality work in all matters relating to wills and estate administration. The team has particular expertise in high value estates and inheritance tax matters.

We have four members of the team who may work on your matter. Regardless of who works on your matter, they will be supervised by Tamara Singh, Partner and Head of probate and estate administration.

Tamara Singh – Partner

Tamara is the head of our team and has over 20 years' experience in private client work, specialising in wills and probate. Tamara has been working in this area since she qualified and has helped thousands of families and individuals.

Tamara qualified as a solicitor in 1996 after gaining a First in Law from the University of Exeter. She completed her training contract at Legal & Co and worked at different firms before moving on to join our firm in 1998. She became a partner in 2006.

Tamara has also completed several professional development courses in probate and estate administration.

Linda O'Connor – Senior Associate

Linda qualified as a solicitor in 2007. She attended the University of Birmingham and completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course with distinction.

She has been working in our probate team since she qualified and is particularly skilled at dealing with complex estate matters, having dealt with over one thousand complex estates since starting at our firm. Linda speaks fluent Russian and German.

John Rotherham – Associate

John qualified as a solicitor in 2017 and has been working in our probate team ever since. John has a degree in History from the University of Sheffield and completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course at the University of Nottingham. John did seats in probate, immigration and commercial property, and has a strong interest in developing his skillset in probate. He has quickly gained experience in this area, successfully advising on over 100 probate and estate matters since qualifying.

Ismail Lakhani – Trainee Solicitor

Ismail has a degree in Economics from Newcastle University and has completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course at the BBP law school in Manchester. Ismail began his training contract with us in September 2017 and will work in our probate, tax and litigation and dispute teams.

Promoting your firm

When planning how you will meet our Transparency Rules, you should consider your potential market, and what peoples' information needs are within this market.

You are also reminded of your duty to comply with statutory obligations to not provide misleading information to consumers, false advertising, bait advertising etc. Doing so is also likely to be a breach of Outcome 8.1 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 which requires your publicity to be accurate and not misleading.

Using an online review service can showcase the quality of your work. In recent years, new and independent services have emerged that collect and publish client feedback in an objective but sensibly moderated way.

This can showcase the standard of the service you provide and can also show that you are proactive in dealing with negative feedback or comments. It should also be noted that by using a review service you can often challenge vexatious reviews and have them independently moderated.

Read the SRA's guidance on engaging with online reviews.

Area specific tips and pricing templates

To help you consider how you may publish the required information, we have provided a series of templates and practical tips covering each of the areas specified within our Transparency Rules.

Across the templates we also provide examples of how prices may be displayed using different pricing models.

We recommend that you look at the templates relating to both the services and pricing models you offer. The combinations of service/pricing models are illustrative only, and are not designed to suggest which model you should use for any given service. If the template for a given service you provide is not in the pricing model you use, we suggest you also consider the other template/principles outlined below to see if they may help you.

You will need to tailor the information you publish to offer a true reflection of the services you offer.

Templates: service/pricing model(s)

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