The Solicitors Regulation Authority has renewed its focus on fining firms for failing to meet transparency requirements. The regulator recently released details of three fines published in a single day.
The most recent round of penalties includes the largest fine issued concerning non-compliance with transparency rules. The north London firm was ordered to pay a fine of £3,500 and £600 in costs. Failures included insufficient details about its costs for motoring offences and complaints procedure, plus failure to display the SRA’s digital badge on its website.
2. Other fines issued for transparency rules breaches included:
- East London law firm was fined £1600 and ordered to pay £600 costs for failing to publish costs details, the complaints procedure and the SRA’s digital badge. The same firm was fined £800 in 2021 after failing to promptly declare that it had a compliant anti-money laundering firm-wide risk assessment.
- East London law firm was fined £2000 and £600 costs for failing to publish costs and complaints information and failing to display the SRA badge.
It was also noted that some of these firms failed to respond to the SRA’s letters and emails setting out the deficiencies and failing to remedy the same.
In all three of the latest cases, fines were issued in October or November 2022, but details were published this month (January 2023).
3. Transparency rules – the requirements
The SRA Transparency Rules have been in force since 2018, but many firms have needed help to get to grips with them and deliver, onto their websites, a fully compliant pricing structure.
To assist firms in getting their fees transparency pages right, we highlight a few key areas below: –
- Service Areas that require a fees transparency page are:
- Conveyancing (residential) (be sure to include sale, purchase, and re-mortgage – on both leasehold and freehold if different)
- Probate (uncontested)
- Motoring offences (summary offences)
- Immigration (excluding asylum)
- Employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal)
- Debt recovery (up to £100,000)
- Licensing applications (business premises)
- Provide the total cost for each service and, if not possible, a range of costs. Ensure that you state both the price net and gross of VAT.
- Make it clear what your hourly rates are and when they will apply.
- Detail obvious disbursement and their amounts and also include the price net and gross of VAT. You should also include typical costs if exact fees are not available. Such as for council or interpreters. We have seen firms criticised when this information is not provided.
- You should provide the details of the fee earners likely to deal with the work in a particular category and their supervisors or who has overall supervision. Confirm their qualification and experience via a summary of expertise and experience. Links to complete profiles could be included.
- Where you offer conditional fees of Damages Based Agreement, explain when a client will be required to make payment of costs.
- Detail the services included in your fixed price or range of prices.
- Where possible, highlight any obvious services that would not be invaded in the fixed pricing.
- Identify key stages of each matter and the expected time it will take for the matter to be resolved. Where possible, provide a time scale for each stage.
Getting this right is essential. Not having the price information on your website (and other requirements) clearly indicates a firm’s ability to comply. An enquiry about this may lead to a broader enquiry and more questions.
At The Strategic Partner, we work with firms on a range of risk and compliance matters providing essential support to firms and delivering for them a robust risk and compliance strategy that will include price transparency.
Price Transparency Review – The Strategic Partner’s compliance team will review your website for a fee of £100 and provide you with a written report that
- Highlights any issues you may have.
- Advises the action to take to rectify any errors.
- We can also work with you to implement the changes if you require them.
Our team of expert and dedicated compliance officers are here to assist you and your firm.
5. How confident are you about compliance?
The Strategic Partner is a law firm knowledge hub. We work with both law firms and professional indemnity insurers, advising and guiding on risk management techniques to assist and reduce instances of errors or regulatory breaches.
If you believe your firm may be at risk or wish to confirm your firm is achieving the required standard, at The Strategic Partner, we offer a range of solutions.
- Regulation 21 AML 2017 Independent Audit – A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include AML procedures with the audit meeting the requirements of Regulation 21 of the AML 2017. The output of which provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues that rise and ensure the firm is compliant, find out more
- Training– Our typical AML Training includes:
- AML Training for ALL staff to meet the firm’s obligation to provide annual training.
- 1-2-1 training for the MLRO and MLCO on their obligations and requirements.
- Practical training for those involved in client onboarding to ensure their ID and AML checks are correctly completed.
- File Revies/Auditing – At TSP we engage with firms undertaking files reviews where we consider procedure, staff, systems, and files to ensure the procedures are up to the required standard and being implemented at case level with a report of the outcome.
Our packaged risk and compliance solutions provide guidance and support to firms on a range of topics and include: –
- Our Risk, Regulation and Compliance Service (including AML) provides firms with the necessary Policies, Control and Procedures (PCPs) – that are in line with CQS requirements and the standard of the relevant quality mark – alongside training, supervision structure, an annual independent assessment and reporting. This solution ensures firms and their staff are compliant and remain there. It also clarifies what to do in the event of a mistake and/or a breach occurs.
- Our extended service, Risk, Compliance, AML Guidance and Register Administration, provides an outsource solution for firms where The Strategic Partner not only manages and maintains the risk registers and provides guidance to all staff (inc. Partners) we also produce monthly risk and compliance report.
The combination of these two solutions provides a law firm with a robust and cost-effective risk and compliance strategy that ensures staff have access to expert guidance as it is needed.
6. Get in touch with our compliance team
We would be pleased to discuss your current approach to regulation and compliance and how our services will assist you in ensuring your firm is protected.