Consumer engagement strategy and action plan 2010

15 March 2010

(Period: 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2010) 

Strategy

1. Introduction

  • 1.1

    The role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to set, promote and secure in the public interest standards of behaviour and professional performance necessary to ensure that consumers receive a good service, and that the rule of law is upheld.

  • 1.2

    Our regulatory activities are driven by our remit to act in the public interest, meaning that consumer protection and education runs through the heart of our work. Our purpose and our strategy reflect this, as does our Strategic Plan and the associated strategic themes. Our Business Objectives for 2010 also include Customer Service, Stakeholder Management and Diversity and Inclusion, all of which will in some part be achieved through our work on consumer engagement.

  • 1.3

    To help us achieve our objectives, and to make sure we are regulating appropriately in the interest of the public and consumers of legal services, we have developed a programme of work around consumer engagement. This strategy sets out the objectives and principles we will work to during 2010.

2. Scope and delivery

  • 2.1

    We need to be clear that we understand what we have to do in order to meet the public interest and the interests of those using legal services. We should be proactive in seeking out information about consumer engagement, rather than waiting for it to come to us. This strategy helps us to know about the changing needs of consumers and identify their concerns, their experiences of using legal services, their exposure to our regulation, and their requirements for information, so we can respond and regulate accordingly.

  • 2.2

    The SRA's Policy Support Unit will lead the work on the Consumer Engagement strategy and its action plan in 2010. But consumer engagement is not the role of just one unit, but of many. So the Policy Support Unit works across the SRA to complete the actions and ensure we maximise resources and impact.

  • 2.3

    We will also work with the Legal Services Board (LSB) to make sure we continue to put the consumer and public interest at the heart of regulation, with the Legal Services Consumer Panel as it identifies and reviews consumer research and other activities. We aim to work in partnership with the LSB and other regulators to ensure we share best practice and research on consumers and consumer engagement, while guarding against the risk of duplicating our efforts.

  • 2.4

    The Legal Services Act 2007 includes the following objectives:

    • protecting and promoting the public interest
    • improving access to justice
    • protecting and promoting the interests of consumers; and
    • increasing public understanding of the citizen's legal rights and duties.

    These objectives inform our SRA consumer strategy and engagement plan.

  • 2.5

    Our consumer engagement work is also consistent with principles of engagement being developed during 2010 by the SRA, as well as specifically ensuring our consumer engagement work is:

    • Proactive – we will seek out opportunities to interact with consumers of legal services
    • Innovative – we will regularly appraise our engagement techniques and identify new ways of achieving our consumer engagement objectives
    • Inclusive – we will engage with a diverse range of individuals, communities and representative bodies
    • Two-way – we will encourage honest and open dialogue with consumers and set up forums to support this.

3. Our consumers

  • 3.1

    The standard definition of a consumer is a person buying goods or services for their own use. This strategy concentrates on identifying and engaging with individual people purchasing (or being interested in purchasing) legal services, rather than with commercial or bulk purchasers. We believe that protecting and promoting the interest of the individual consumer is central to protecting and promoting the wider public interest; we also believe that what we learn from our consumer engagement work will be important in shaping our regulatory activity as a whole.

  • 3.2

    Consumers contact us through our Contact Centre, and there is a section of the SRA website dedicated to consumers; however, traditionally we have had limited direct engagement with consumers. We need to make the most of the opportunities we have to interact with consumers of legal services, and be sure that we are proactive in seeking out new opportunities.

  • 3.3

    Our key messages for consumers are as follows:

    • The SRA regulates to protect the interests of the public and acts quickly and proportionately when a risk is identified.
    • The SRA recognises that the consumers it protects are diverse, and strives to ensure it protects the interests of all consumers.
    • The SRA is independent of both the representative Law Society and solicitors in its regulatory work.
    • The SRA helps consumers make informed choices about using a solicitor.
    • The SRA is a modern, forward-thinking regulator, which continues to review and develop the way it regulates to ensure regulation remains fit-for-purpose.
  • 3.4

    We need to make sure we communicate and engage consumers of legal services in a way which is relevant to their interests and needs. The action plan sets out the ways in which we plan to meet this challenge.

4. Our objectives

  • 4.1

    Our consumer engagement work aims to achieve the following objectives:

    Objective 1

    To provide information to help consumers make decisions about legal services, and understand the standards they are entitled to expect.

    Objective 2

    To engage widely and innovatively with consumers of legal services on the issues they face, and use analysis from this engagement to support evidence-based policy development across the SRA.

    Objective 3

    To consult consumers about changes to the regulatory framework, and involve consumers in shaping our organisational development.

5. Consumer engagement action plan 2010

ActivityOutcomeMeasure Milestone
To publish a series of 'consumer guides' in conjunction with other organisations, to support consumers in building their relationship with solicitors when using different types of legal service (e.g. will writing, conveyancing, etc).

Consumers are made aware of the standards they are entitled to receive and have realistic expectations of their solicitors when dealing with them in different circumstances.

Related objective(s): 1

The number of consumer guides that are published.

Three consumer guides published on the website by 30 June 2010.

Six (in total) consumer guides published on the website by 31 December 2010.

To publish a report on regulatory approaches within the wills and probate sector.

Greater understanding of consumer requirements from regulators when using solicitors for will and probate services, to better inform regulatory policy development.

Related objective(s): 1 and 2

Existing information and evidence around consumer experiences of wills and probate is gathered.

A final report is published on the SRA website.

Information gathered by 30 June 2010.

Report published by 31 December 2010.

To develop and hold a programme of SRA workshops with consumers of legal services on a variety of subjects as identified by the business.

Greater understanding of consumer perceptions of regulation to better inform policy /regulatory development.

Related objective(s): 1, 2 and 3

Workshop topics are identified.

The required number of workshops are held.

Topics identified by 30 April 2010.

Two workshops held by 31 July 2010.

Four (in total) workshops held by 31 December 2010.

To proactively identify consumer 'hot topics' and opportunities to highlight the SRA's work.

Awareness raised of the SRA's brand, and opportunities identified to inform and educate consumers regarding legal services and using solicitors.

Related objective(s): 1 and 2

Scanning mechanism developed to identify topics.

Mechanism in place by 30 April 2010.

To further develop working relationships with other consumer-focused organisations.

Stronger relationships with key SRA stakeholders are built, to help foster a culture of sharing best practice and information sharing.

Related objective(s): 1, 2 and 3

Work collaboratively with other consumer-focused organisations, including meetings arranged for:

  • The Professional Regulators Forum; and
  • consumer representative bodies.

Ongoing throughout 2010.

The forum has met by 31 December 2010.

A workshop has been held by 31 December 2010.

To work collaboratively with the Legal Services Board and the LSB Consumer Panel to identify public information requirements and improve consumer education.

Be aware of, and where appropriate contribute to, public education campaigns, consumer research and other consumer activities that may be developed by the Legal Services Board.

Related objective(s): 1 and 2

User feedback/testing carried out on the 'consumer' section of the SRA website, and any potential changes identified.

Workshop(s) held with consumers to appraise this information by 31 December 2010.

To expand and appraise the consumer information provided by the SRA.

Improved relevance of information made available for consumers, including through the SRA website.

Related objective(s): 1, 2 and 3

Liaise as appropriate with the Legal Services Board, its Consumer Panel and other approved regulators.

From quarter 1 2010 onwards.