Why is the guidance being introduced?
The guidance has been developed to improve price transparency for legal services and encourage solicitors to proactively publish information to help consumers in Scotland make better-informed choices, as some consumers may have the perception of legal services being too costly for them and approach an unregulated provider, or avoid seeking legal advice.
Unlike in England & Wales, where the Solicitors Regulatory Authority has introduced a set of rules on price transparency, the Society’s Regulatory Committee decided that guidance would be the most appropriate way forward.
What areas of practice does the guidance cover?
The guidance applies to all consumer-facing legal practice areas. While the examples focus on a small number of practice areas, the Society hopes they will prove helpful to firms in developing a pricing guide covering other areas of work.
The only exception is where the matter is solely covered by legal aid.
If your firm provides a mix of legal aid and fee-paying work, you should provide price information on the fee-paying work.
Who within my firm is responsible for publishing pricing information?
This decision lies with the firm. It could be the client relations partner/manager or the person responsible for marketing.
My firm doesn’t have a website. What should I do?
You should still have price information available for potential clients. There is no need to create specially designed leaflets: a simple printout will suffice as long as the pricing is easy to understand and readily available for people. For example, you can have a price list indicating a typical cost or an hourly rate for particular types of work, available to read in your reception area.
Another option may be a web-based quote calculator which allows consumers to compare costs.
Are the pricing examples provided designed as templates for firms to use?
No. These are examples only. Which model to use for any given service is for each firm to decide, based on their own judgment.
Does the guidance apply to services such as estate agency?
Price transparency applies to the services offered by a firm to individuals (unless the work is funded by legal aid), and would cover estate agency work as well as the conveyancing work carried out by the firm.
Our cases are so variable, how do we produce a realistic price guide?
Legal work is by its very nature variable. However, the same principle applies to how you set out your terms of business or terms of engagement letter for clients on the potential cost of their particular case.
You may prefer to publish a list of “typical” or “average” costs for particular types of work, fixed fees, or an hourly rate. It is important that it’s clear that these are an indication of the costs involved and, in the case of fixed fees, what is included in the fee, so clients can be as well informed as possible prior to speaking to a solicitor. Your price guide should also make clear that any fee charged will be based on the client’s specific circumstances.
Price is only one aspect that consumers consider before appointing a solicitor. Other considerations might be the quality of the service, speed and efficiency, reliability or your proven expertise in a given area of law. How consumers/clients value these factors will vary. Your firm should understand what motivates the particular client group you are trying to attract and promote your services accordingly.
What is meant by an “average” or "typical" price?
A typical price would be one that you would commonly apply to particular types of work.
An average price for certain types of work is based on a calculation from a reasonable number of cases at the firm.
What information should be included in any fixed fee pricing?
Any firm which publishes a fixed fee must stipulate what is included and, importantly, what is not included within that fee, so that consumers can be clear on what costs will apply to them.
Solicitors will still be expected to provide their client with a clear terms of business letter, including fees/costs which apply to their particular case and the level of service they can expect.
Should my firm include VAT in the published pricing?
Yes. Although it is not a specific requirement, it is good practice to provide a price inclusive of VAT. Whether you do or not, you must set out how VAT is calculated.
When must my firm have a price list in place?
While the guidance has been published on 1 February 2020, the Society expects to see firms implementing the necessary changes by 1 April 2020.
Guidance does not have the same status as a rule and it is not compulsory. However, all solicitors are encouraged to follow the guidance as a matter of best practice. In the event of a complaint being raised in relation to the guidance, a solicitor would have to provide a reason for not following it. As with any complaint, it would be for the SLCC to decide how to proceed.
For the guidance, and to access the full Q&A, see section E, division G, of the Society's rules and guidance.
Read an article on using the guidance to advantage in this month's Journal.