The Law Society of Scotland has issued guidance for Scottish solicitors on publishing pricing and price transparency. The guidance, which is due to come into effect in January 2021, aims to help consumers better understand the cost of legal advice and services by informing firms as to how they can publish indicative price information about their services.
The guidance, which will not apply to firms that solely undertake legal aid work or those which provide legal services to businesses, was originally published shortly before lockdown but its implementation has been postponed until 31 January 2021.
This guidance has been produced to reflect the findings of the Competition and Markets Authority Report 2016 which suggested that consumers are disadvantaged by the lack of readily available price information from providers of legal services and the absence of available price information may be preventing consumers making an informed choice when selecting from those providers. The Society state that “This guidance has been produced to promote price transparency and encourage practice units to proactively take steps to publish price information in a way that is easily accessible, prominent and understandable for consumers”.
Unlike in England and Wales, where there is a mandatory Price Transparency Rule, the approach in Scotland is a voluntary one with the purpose of guidance being to assist solicitors and others providing legal services to meet the standards of good professional and ethical practice. However, should a complaint be raised in relation to the guidance, a solicitor would have to provide a reason for not following it.
Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee, said:
“The past six months have been exceptionally challenging for the legal profession and the Regulatory Committee decided to delay the introduction of the guidance to allow firms to respond to the immediate issues presented by Covid-19. It is important however, that as we continue to adapt to the current environment, we also progress key areas of work.
“The guidance has been developed to improve price transparency and encourages solicitors to proactively publish information to help people seeking legal services make better-informed choices. Whether someone is thinking of buying a new home, wants to make a will or set up a power of attorney, or they may have separated from a partner or have an employment problem, we hope members of the public will be able to get a better idea of the typical costs involved in such cases early on.
“As well as increasing clarity for consumers, it can help improve access to justice. A report published by the Competition and Markets Authority on the legal services market in England and Wales a few years ago indicated that some people are put off seeking professional legal advice altogether as they are worried about price. This could ultimately cost them even more – financially and emotionally – if left unresolved.
“Research has highlighted that people can over-estimate typical costs, so having a clearer picture will help to scotch some of the myths about the presumed high price of going to a solicitor for legal advice. A number of Scottish law firms are already publishing their prices to help demystify the costs of legal services for consumers and this new guidance should improve price transparency around the country and encourage people to speak to a solicitor to resolve any legal issues sooner rather than later.
“While the very nature of legal services means that unforeseen complexities can arise, potentially leading to additional work and expense, we firmly believe that having a better understanding from the outset will benefit both the consumer and solicitor working on their behalf.”
The guidance allows for different options for publishing pricing including typical or average costs for cases or fixed fees for certain types of work such as the sale of a residential property, simple wills or for certain types of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. Firms which publish a fixed fee must be clear in what is included in that fixed cost. Solicitors will also be expected to inform their client if additional issues arise and any associated costs as a result.