The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) is calling upon legal services regulators to be more proactive in their attempts to get lawyers to present clearer and more directly comparable information to consumers.
In their latest report entitled “Standardisation of Consumer Information in Legal Services“, the LSCP warns that some of the information remedies recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will not have the desired effect if regulators do not prescribe the format or form of words that should be used in these types of communication.
The LSCP, which has long highlighted the need for better information provision to empower consumers to make more informed decisions, argues that standardisation should be considered where current regulatory information remedies are failing, e.g. in complaint signposting, or where regulators are trying to highlight a reduction in consumer protection. Standardisation can reduce the burden on lawyers who may not have the expertise or resources to test information with consumers prior to its dissemination. In addition, standardising the form of words in a letter, or devising recommended or mandatory templates, will make it easier to test whether information remedies will deliver the desired outcomes.
The LSCP go on to say that standard structures and formats for information aid navigation and oversight and contribute to efficiency and effective competition by facilitating comparability across providers.
They state in the report that “regulators in legal services often shy away from prescribing or standardising crucial information on consumer rights that must be provided to consumers, even when there is evidence that providers’ efforts are not effective”.
The Panel has drawn on examples from other regulators who use standardisation as a regulatory tool.
Sarah Chambers, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said:
“We have seen progress in the variety and quality of information provided by lawyers to their clients. However, we know that in some areas the information is not having the desired effect. For example, when things go wrong, consumers are still not engaging as they should with the complaint process because insufficient clarity or prominence has been given about how to complain, even though it is a regulatory requirement to inform consumers. We do not doubt that providers do provide information to consumers in their Client Care Letter, but the letter itself, or the way the message is conveyed, is clearly not having the desired impact. Regulators must also do more to ensure that the spirit and intentions of the transparency recommendations made by the CMA are realised. For example, while consumers now have access to pricing information in some areas of law, the way in which prices are displayed can make it very hard for consumers to compare prices between different providers, regulators should do more to effect change.”