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Regulators consider forcing firms to sign up to review websites

By John Hyde >>

The possibility of forcing law firms to sign up for review websites is being discussed by policy-makers today. The Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator, will meet to discuss a new paper on quality indicators which suggests that action is needed to ‘catalyse’ change in the legal market.

The paper states that a market-led approach is preferable to a standardised centralised model imposed by regulators, but says that compulsory measures may be necessary if the profession is to fully embrace comparison and review sites.

‘Our policy around quality indicators will be a key component of our upcoming statement of policy on consumer engagement,’ the paper states. ‘We will expect regulatory bodies to make use of a variety of levers to effect change, including mandatory requirements on providers as required.’

The paper later suggests that mandatory sign-up may be recommended ‘should voluntary approaches not achieve sufficient and fast enough progress’.

Regulators are under pressure to do more to provide consumers with information about the legal service they are looking for. The Competition and Markets Authority last year welcomed reforms around mandatory price and service information, but concern remains that anyone looking for a lawyer has little way of deciding what quality they can expect.

The SRA is in the middle of a pilot scheme bringing together comparison and review sites with around 70 law firms who have volunteered to sign up for putting more information about quality standards online.

But progress towards widespread adoption of comparison and review sites is slow: research by IRN published last month found that 10% of people used their sites to find lawyers – an increase on previous years but still unlikely to satisfy competition watchdogs.

The LSB will refine its position on quality indicators following today’s meeting and will publish a response document and draft statement of policy next month.

Michael Hanney, founder of ReviewSolicitors, which has worked with the SRA on its pilot scheme, said the end of voluntary reviews is ‘on the horizon’.

‘Law firms and lawyers have long been asked to take online reviews seriously and to voluntarily take them up,’ he said. ‘But the LSB lacks confidence that firms will get there on their own…. The LSB is clearly saying “look, you don’t want regulating, but we need the benefits that online reviews bring”.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)