The year ahead

It is an exciting time for research for us at the SRA, as we begin a new programme of projects for 2018. Conducting and commissioning research helps us to shape our policies and make sure the decisions we make are evidence based. It also helps us to evaluate our reforms to make sure they are working well for the public and profession, and to identify any areas of regulatory concern in legal services. 

In last month's blog we shared the findings of our first behavioural research project, evaluating price transparency and consumer choice in the legal services market. This was the first research of its kind in legal services. It was also our first project exploring the recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) legal services market study to improve information transparency, particularly in the areas of price, service, redress and regulatory status. 

Not only will we further explore these areas in the coming year, we will be continuing to use innovative research methods while developing our behavioural insights work. Below are details of some of the projects we will be conducting this year. 

Better information in the legal services market 

Our Better information, more choice consultation, which closed in December, included proposals for firms to publish more information. This included their prices and information about their regulatory status and protections, such as having insurance and access to the Legal Ombudsman. We believe access to more information will help members of the public and small businesses make informed choices and improve competition in the legal services market. 

To test these proposals, we will be collaborating with the Legal Ombudsman, and using randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to explore what information people need about complaints, regulatory status and protections when shopping around for legal services. We will also explore how this information should be presented. If you are interested in how these trials work, you can read our behavioural insights blog.

Our Policy team is currently analysing the wide range of responses we received and will take these, along with our research findings, into account when making decisions about the proposals later this year. 

Transparency of legal costs for small businesses 

Our second piece of research addressing the CMA's recommendations will explore price transparency for small businesses. Using RCTs and consumer surveys we will test what price information small business owners/managers need, and how law firms can best present it to help them make informed decisions. 

The Legal Services Board (LSB) recently published research into the legal needs of small businesses which showed that this group rarely engage with legal services, preferring to deal with problems themselves or use their accountant. We believe that, alongside increasing choice and competition, making price information more readily available will encourage consumers and small businesses to use legal services rather than 'go it alone' or seek advice elsewhere. 

Profiling advocacy 

There is currently limited research available into criminal and other types of advocacy in legal services. To learn more, we began research into criminal advocacy in 2017 with a joint project with the Bar Standards Board (BSB). This explored the judiciary's opinions on the quality of criminal advocacy and will be published later this year. 

Our research into advocacy will continue in 2018, and through surveys with solicitors and firms, we will aim to profile the advocacy market to learn more about how solicitors are using their advocacy rights and what firms are doing to make sure their knowledge and skills are up to date. This will help us identify both good practice and any areas of regulatory concern where we can support solicitors and firms to improve. 

Going forward...

We will also be conducting research into three of our priority risks for 2017-18: investment schemes, exploring why people invest in dubious schemes, and research to support firms to identify and protect themselves against the risks of money laundering and cybercrime.

Watch this space for updates as these projects progress throughout the year.

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