The new Price Transparency Guidance issued by the Law Society of Scotland from 1 February 2020 has received a mixed reaction from the profession. “Pointless – clients won’t understand it”; “How can you standardise fees that change with each different case?”; “You can’t put an average on time and line work”; “What if a fixed fee case becomes more complex?” and so on.
All true, but missing the point of this exercise. Yes, we tend to resent yet another bit of regulatory bureaucracy on top of all the rest, but the guidance is the least worst remedy to a problem that we need to deal with, and which has already bamboozled the English SRA.
Legal services are not like a holiday, a television, holiday insurance etc. One size does not fit all. But the general public want price information before they are, or feel, committed to an instruction. And why not? We as solicitors are not different from other professionals – or indeed, in some ways, to retailers and online service providers. Solicitors serve a market; surely we have to give and present value for money?
The guidance does not impose a fixed fee regime, or prescribe what can be charged. The figures and information to be published by firms are simply illustration, not a binding quotation or offer. Indeed firms should make that clear on their websites. In Glasgow we would call it “a step for a hint”.
The Society has provided a fulsome set of FAQs about the whys and wherefores; an edited version is at Journal, March 2020, 41. My offering today is to give an example of how a firm might present the information.
Although one of my roles in the Society is convener of the Professional Practice Committee, I sat down as Austin Lafferty, partner of my firm, to draft transparent pricing material for our website. Below is one of the illustrations – the section on wills, as that is one of the areas of practice we are involved in – but I also invite solicitors and firms to look at my webpage and do one of the following: (a) copy and paste as much as they think suitable for their needs; (b) use the material/layout as a springboard for their own draft information; or (c) read it, ignore it altogether and do their own better version.
The Law Society of Scotland provision is guidance, not a rule. But although it is a lighter touch, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is taking a keen interest in this matter, and any firm not following the guidance may end up facing a complaint one way or another.
Turn it to advantage
Let me finish on a positive note. The price transparency exercise has been in my experience only partly to meet a regulatory professional imposition: it also has supported our marketing and advertising effort. Any potential (reasonable) client reading my information cannot surely be put off from going at least the next step of picking up the phone to speak to or meet a solicitor – and give us a chance at securing the business of that client. The language is amicable, inviting, reassuring. And I discovered long ago that the (rare) potential client whose main worry is the cost of our services is likely to be the more difficult client, and if my illustrative pricing puts them off, then frankly, it’s all good.
To see the full set of information our firm has provided, go to and click on the “Price Transparency Guide” link.
Editor’s note: In light of the coronavirus outbreak, the Society has postponed the date by which it expects to see firms implementing the necessary changes from 1 April 2020 to 1 July 2020.
A will is an important document to get right – in content, expression and execution. It is a mistake to think either that a will is not necessary or that it is necessarily straightforward.
In Scotland the law of inheritance can be complex and very often not what the ordinary client expects in terms of the rights of family members to a share – or not – of the estate. So this firm’s work will almost certainly involve discussing and advising on options and risks to achieve even the most basic will. If there are more complex family circumstances, dispositions of assets and/or potential or actual exposure to inheritance tax, then the work required may be extensive and thus carry additional fee charge.
For a basic job of consultation, advice, preparation of the single will, completion execution and storage, the fee may be £175 plus VAT £35.
There are usually no outlays associated with this process.
Austin Lafferty is a partner in Austin Lafferty Ltd and convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Practice Committee