The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) has responded to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) consultation on its Business Plan and budget for 2021/22.
ACSO was broadly supportive of the SRA’s proposals to meet the three objectives of its Corporate Strategy.
Particular attention was paid to the setting and maintaining of high standards for the profession and for the SRA – objective one of the Corporate Strategy. Rachel Cairnes, policy and public affairs advisor at ACSO, said:
“Although supportive of the SRA’s focus upon ongoing competence, the central issue concerns consumer understanding of the quality of a legal service and/or professional. Here, the importance of public legal education comes to the fore, as does the transparency of service quality. In the absence of quality indicators, consumers are unable to make informed decisions and secure the best value for money. For this reason, we welcome the SRA’s intention to review its Transparency Rules and to develop its work on the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recommendations for information transparency for consumers.
“As raised in our formal and informal engagement with the SRA, ACSO is progressing its own work on improving competition and transparency within the legal services sector. This includes our work with Glenesk on its Customer Service Review of UK consumer law. In addition, ACSO is working closely with Defaqto on its rating of legal expenses insurance (LEI) products and services. This work has the potential to go far beyond LEI and influence the rating of a wider range of legal products and services.
“For this reason, we are pleased that the SRA will attend the upcoming ACSO/ Defaqto workshop alongside the Legal Services Board (LSB), Legal Ombudsman Service (LeO), Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). As agreed, we will continue to share non-commercial insights with the SRA that we have collated throughout the engagement with Glenesk, Defaqto and others, including aggregators such as Trustpilot and Compare the Market.
“As a broader point, while understanding the value in customer reviews, digital comparison tools (DCTs) do not always confirm that a legal service provider is of high quality. Rather, it can confirm that a provider understands how to manage its reputation. For example, Trustpilot adjusts a firm’s score according to the number and age of the reviews given, thereby having the potential to negatively impact smaller firms and those which do not encourage consumers to leave reviews – often because they may not have adequate resources to do so effectively.
“One of the leading reasons that consumers complain about providers is the price of a service, not least as the final cost may be higher than originally expected owing to the complexity of a case.
“In light of this, the fulcrum of consumer dissatisfaction is the lack of communication between parties. If consumers are not kept informed throughout the process, particularly on the price of the service, they will be surprised and dissatisfied with any price increase. As stated by LeO, in each case where it was found there was poor service, “the problem would not have arisen had the lawyer done, at least, a better job of explaining their costs”. For this reason, we urge the SRA to review and update its guidance for law professionals relating to communication and consider alternative methods of ensuring legal service providers engage effectively with their clients.
ACSO members can read the submission in full on the members’ area of the website.