Ode to Autumn
A probably well known fact is that Keats wrote the Ode to Autumn whilst walking along the water meadows here in Winchester. It is certainly true that by those meadows mists swirl from damp vegetation at this time of year. You would be welcome to come and see for yourself https://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/listing/keats-trail/
The mist, or should I say fog, was definitely around one morning as I tried in vain to fly to Manchester airport to give a presentation in the city and I had to revert to good old fashioned train travel. It felt like something of a metaphor – in the effort to move forward and use new technology and new approaches we sometimes need to take a backward step and review the best methods.
Season of mists & mellow fruitfulness?
For example, the Legal Services Board has for some years been trying to persuade the various regulators of legal services to encourage their members to volunteer transparency on pricing & service levels. In the end it has had to insist, with the SRA in the case of solicitors and Alternative Business Structures, making it compulsory for those it regulates to post the prices and service levels for non-contentious UK probate work (amongst other things) on their firms’ websites by December 2018. For more on this see my earlier blog.
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The problem with insisting on transparency on price is that we all know there are a variety of models which can be adopted and a consumer will not then be able to compare like with like. Including your service levels can help to position your firm and your offering but it is still hard to differentiate your approach if people are only focusing on price.
The templates offered to help you by the SRA are long and not to my mind in plain English which is surely how we are supposed to approach this. https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/guidance/ethics-guidance/price-transparency.page
So in trying to help the consumer find the right legal service for them all that seems to have been achieved is a swirling fog of confusion – particularly as not all regulators are making price and service level transparency compulsory.
Where are the songs of spring?
Would it not be better for the LSB to move back a few steps and focus once more on which legal services should be regulated and which should not? Let’s bring some consistency to the regulation of lawyers and make it so much easier for the consumer to know what safety nets are available.
If key legal services were regulated then we could simplify the regulatory system by having one legal sector regulator and all regulated work complaints would be able to go to the Legal Ombudsman. There would be one standard of regulation creating certainty for the consumer using regulated services. It might even provide the long lost goal of a level playing field for those providing legal services.
At the moment many people question how safe democracy is – there are some huge problems to address politically at the moment not least the issue of Brexit – but let’s not forget that without appropriate legal services delivered to consumers who can easily understand just what they are purchasing the rule of law itself is undermined and with it democracy.
Taking a step back can often provide a way forward – so come on LSB be brave and robust and re-visit the regulatory framework rather than insisting on price transparency. That can follow once the consumer is protected by a simpler and more effective regulatory system.
To help clients understand the fog of regulation and the mists of pricing why not point them to the Streetwise Guide to Getting the Best from your Lawyer.
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