The regulator has recently confirmed that they will carry out a new rolling programme of checks on websites over the next few months to ensure that law firms comply with all aspects of the SRA transparency rules.
The SRA said that they will be checking all law firm sites, including those of firms who have previously completed a self-declaration stating that they are fully compliant.
Under the transparency rules, if your firm has a website and offers service areas such as conveyancing, probate, immigration, employment tribunals or motoring offences, you must display specific information concerning these services. Firms must also include details on the services offered, who delivers them, and pricing.
The regulator acknowledged that whilst it believed that most firms are adhering to the rules, there are some that are still not complying correctly and said, “Where we find non-compliance with the rules, we will engage with that firm in the first instance. If a firm persists in failing to comply, we will take action.”
2. Importance of Fee Transparency Compliance
Firms need to be able to demonstrate their compliance with the SRA Transparency Rules. Failure to comply with the requirement is publicly available information (as it sits on your website) and generally provides insight into a firm’s approach to regulation. Whether right or wrong, it indicates potential wider non-compliance with the requirements of the SRA and puts the firm at risk.
3. What are the transparency rules?
The SRA Transparency rules, which came into force in December 2018, require firms to publish their price and service information on their website if they promote the availability of certain common services as part of their usual business. These include:
- Residential conveyancing
- Motoring offences
- Employment tribunals (public and businesses)
- Licensing applications (businesses)
- Debt recovery (businesses)
The SRA Price and Service Transparency rules also require all firms with a website to publish the following details:
- Their complaints procedure, including how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman or the SRA.
- 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 disbursements and their amounts and include the price of net and gross VAT.
- Provide the details of the fee earners dealing with the work in a particular category and their supervisors. Confirm their qualification and experience through a brief summary of expertise and experience.
- 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 included 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.
Whilst the SRA has published its guidance on what is required of firms, many firms continue to struggle to get to grips with the transparency rules and deliver, onto their websites, a fully compliant pricing structure, and complaints procedure.
4. How The Strategic Partner can help with your Fee Transparency compliance
If you have been contacted by the SRA requesting a declaration of transparency compliance, or if you require the confidence to know that your pages are correct, we can provide a quick review to confirm whether your firm’s website is compliant. If not, we can assist you in getting accurate content onto the appropriate section of your website.
Following a transparency review of your website, we can work with you to provide a service that involves:
- A consultation with you to gather information
- Writing your website copy and guidance on where to place this
- Liaising with your web provider to upload the copy or we can assist with updating your website ourselves
4.1 The Cost
If you are generally comfortable with your compliance approach and just require help with price transparency, we will work with you on this specific task. The cost of our transparency review is £50+VAT.
Following the review, if you require assistance with providing transparency information for your website, the pricing will depend on several factors. It will be confirmed following an initial conversation and review of your website. We will work with your firm to ensure the pricing is cost-effective, affordable, and delivers full value to the firm. We will provide, where possible, a fixed fee cost for the transparency service, and you will be given a full breakdown of what the fee will include.
As an indication, a firm requiring transparency documents, ready to publish on their website, for 3 services will likely be charged £300+VAT and members of The Strategic Partner will be offered discounts and member rates on these fees.
5. Our packaged compliance solutions
If you would like guidance on how your firm should consider staff training and how to approach policies and procedures, or you simply wish to confirm your firm is achieving the required standard as set by the SRA, The Strategic Partner, we offer a range of solutions which include: –
- Review– A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include all regulatory requirements and AML procedures. The output of which provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues.
- Training – Whether you seek training on a 1-2-1 or group basis, The Strategic Partner has a range of training courses and mentoring programmes to suit any firm. We can also design any additional bespoke courses that you need. We have provided training to firms of all sizes, and our clients range from sole practitioners through to multi-office, multi-service firms with overseas offices.
- Auditing – Procedural, 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.
- Solutions– Implementation of robust solutions to ensure the firm achieves compliance and then maintains compliance through the provision of ongoing support and assistance: –
- strong>Risk Regulation & compliance Service including AML – Our Risk, Regulation and Compliance Service (including AML) has been designed to provide law firms of all sizes with a compliant environment. We provide bespoke policies and procedures for how your firm works, whilst drawing your attention to any gaps in your risk and compliance activities, whilst drawing your attention to any gaps in your risk and compliance activities. We work with firms of all sizes and types, from partnerships to ABSs, high street firms, and multinational firms. Each firm is different, and whilst there is a commonality of regulation and expected standards, it is essential to recognise how a firm implements compliance to tailor the solution to each firm’s working practices.
- Risk, Compliance, AML Guidance and Register Administration Service– Running a compliant law firm is not just about implementing a set of policies and procedures; the obligations of the Compliance Officers stretch way beyond this, as there is an ongoing responsibility to manage, maintain and monitor the application of the firm’s compliance strategy. The Strategic Partner’s Risk, Compliance, AML Guidance and Register Administration Service is an outsource solution providing all staff with access to an experienced and knowledgeable Compliance Manager for guidance and ensuring the regulatory requirement active management of the firm’s registers is met.
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.
Expert advice and guidance is essential to ensure your firm achieves a compliant status and maintains it.