The Council for Licensed Conveyancers recently published details of the new Informed Choice Rules along with implementation guidance for the firms they regulate.
The new rules are the CLC’s way of meeting the CMA’s (Competition and Markets Authority) recommendations for greater transparency around quality, service and price in the legal services market. The recommendations stem from a 2016 report published by the CMA which concluded that competition in legal services for individual consumers and small businesses was not working well.
We caught up with Stephen Ward, Director of Strategy & External Relations at the CLC, to find out more about what the new rules and the implementation deadline of December 6th mean for CLC regulated law firms.
How do you see the new regulations that have been implemented by the CLC, CilEx and the SRA benefiting consumers?
We want consumers to be able to make better informed choices of lawyer. To do that, information about firms needs to be more easily available and more easily comparable than at present. Crucially, we want to ensure that price is seen in the context of better information about the service the firm provides and assessments of the quality of that service.
We have followed recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority and worked together to ensure that there is a consistent approach across the whole legal services market – this is in the interests of consumers and lawyers.
How do you see the new regulations benefiting the firms that the CLC regulates?
This should be a real spur to firms to help potential clients understand what sets that firm apart from the competition. In other words, to begin to shift the comparison away from price alone and onto how the firm delivers that service – the client experience.
The CLC has already produced some useful resources for the firms it regulates a “How to promote your conveyancing firm, based on quality of service, not just price”, do you see the CLC doing more of this?
We’ve kept the rule changes to an absolute minimum to allow firms maximum flexibility in how they make better information available.
Now that the Legal Services Board has approved our rule changes we have been able to publish comprehensive guidance to help firms meet the new regulatory expectations. If they follow the guidance and think about the types of clients they want to attract and can best serve, we believe firms will benefit from greater transparency.
For example, our research shows that websites that include a price calculator on their website can expect more enquiries and instructions than those that do not.
Of course, firms will need to ensure that staff are equipped to respond effectively to enquiries if they want to convert those to enquiries to new business. We’re all aware of plenty of mystery shopping exercises that have found that many firms fall down at this point.
Could the CLC signpost to third-party providers to help firms make the most from the opportunities that the transparency rule changes bring? For example, listing several companies that could help a firm to improve the landing pages and user experience on its website?
This is not something that we are likely to do. There are lots of providers of good web design who can improve customer journeys and the user experience to increase conversion rates. We recommend that firms research a range of such providers or take recommendations from other businesses they know who’ve had success in this area.
With respect to conveyancing and probate matters, you have created draft templates for the questions needed to create a transparent fee estimate. Have the frontline regulators agreed to review those templates on a regular basis and is there a mechanism in place for firms to feedback on whether the templates are working and whether firms are asking the right questions to provide and estimate?
The CLC is always open to feedback on any point and we’d love to get comments on any aspect of the guidance that we provide on this. There’s no special feedback mechanism at the moment on this particular point, but we will need to keep the templates under review and will continue to work with the other regulators as experience of operating the new rules grows. Firms can talk to their Regulatory Supervision Manager or email us on email@example.com
The CLC’s new regulations expect firms to provide clear description of key stages and indicative timescales for a given service to prospective customers. Does the CLC intend to publish draft templates that firms can then adapt and publish, given that the stages and timescales are going to be largely the same between firms?
We are not planning to publish such templates at the moment.
The CMA suggested that law firms should be doing more to engage with consumer review and feedback websites. The CLC along with other regulators have stopped short of mandating the use of such platforms. Do you think firms can benefit from garnering reviews?
I have spoken to several firms that make use of online reviews and they say that they have found them very useful in helping to promote their service and secure new business. Online reviews of your firm are likely to be out there – it is best to engage activity with them, learn from them and use them to reach new clients. They are a great way of helping potential clients understand the value of what you do from them as distinct from the price.
December 6th isn’t far away. Does the CLC intend to start enforcing the Informed Choice Rules from day one, or do you envisage a period of time during which you will be more lenient as a regulator as firms adapt to the new rules?
We have chosen the December implementation date to give firms over two months to prepare for the implementation of the new rules. We have also structured the rules to give firms a great deal of flexibility in how they comply with them so we expect that firms will achieve compliance without delay – but we won’t be sending out flying squads on 6th December! Compliance will be kept under review through our regular inspections of the firms we regulate, through our Annual Regulatory Return information-gathering excise and through our frequent engagement with firms.
Do you expect the way that consumers choose a conveyancer to change as a result of the new rules and if so how, and how soon?
The purpose of the new rules that we, the SRA and CILEx Regulation are introducing in parallel for our regulated communities, is to empower consumers to make better informed choices of lawyer. We have begun to see over the last few years a growth in consumers’ propensity to shop around for legal services and we hope that evolution will be supported by these measures. If firms grab this opportunity to provide their potential clients with the right information to turn them into actual clients, the pace of change may increase.
This article first appeared on Today’s Conveyancer.