New guidance for Scottish solicitors on publishing pricing aims to help consumers better understand the cost of legal advice and services.
The new guidance from the Law Society of Scotland means solicitor firms offering legal services to the public are encouraged to publish indicative price information up front. Consumers can then compare prices and make their minds up without having to consult a solicitor directly.
The guidance, which will not apply to firms that solely undertake legal aid work or those which provide legal services to businesses, will be published on 1 February and come into effect for firms on 1 July 2020 (postponed from 1 April).
Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee, said: “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.
“Whether someone is thinking of buying a new home, wants to make a will or set up a power of attorney, or they may have separated from a partner or have an employment problem, we hope members of the public will be able to get a better idea of the typical costs involved in such cases early on.
“As well as increasing clarity for consumers, this can help improve access to justice. A report published by the Competition and Markets Authority on the legal services market in England and Wales in 2016 indicated that some people are put off seeking professional legal advice altogether as they are worried they can’t afford it. This is something which ultimately could cost them even more – financially and emotionally - further down the line if left unresolved.
“Another report in 2018 found that publishing up front pricing information scotched a lot of myths about the presumed high price of legal services. People overestimated typical costs, and were often too afraid to ask.
“We know that a number of Scottish law firms are already publishing their prices to help demystify the costs of legal services for consumers. I hope that improving price transparency on a nationwide basis will help to remove barriers for people seeking to resolve any legal issues they have, and encourage them to speak to a solicitor sooner rather than later.”
The guidance recognises there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach given the variability in circumstances of individual legal matters. Law firms in Scotland will have the option to publish average or typical costs of a case or may choose to publish fixed fees for certain types of work such as the sale of a residential property, simple wills or for certain types of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnerships. Firms which choose to publish a fixed fee for their services must be clear in what is included in that fixed cost. Solicitors will also be expected to inform their client if additional issues arise and any associated costs as a result.
Craig Cathcart added: “Solicitors are regulated legal professionals and are already expected to clearly set out the work they will undertake for their client along with information on cost. The new guidance aims to build on that and promote best practice among Scotland’s law firms.
“While the very nature of legal services means that unforeseen complexities can of course arise and potentially lead to additional work and expense, we firmly believe that having a better understanding from the outset will benefit both the consumer and solicitor working on their behalf.”
You can access the new guidance and our Q&A section about the guidance below.