The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published a new consultation outlining its proposed response to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recommendations for more transparency about legal service providers’ fees, services and rights of redress for consumers.
The Bar regulator agrees with the CMA that making this information more available across the legal sector could promote competition and help consumers access the market more easily.
The BSB’s proposal makes it clear that it recognises the unique challenges for the Bar – in particular with regard to the publication of fees – given that most of the work undertaken by barristers is referred to them by solicitors and is often highly complex.
The key features of the BSB’s proposal include:
- Targeting consumers who would most benefit from being able to access more information about barristers’ fees and services by initially only applying disclosure requirements to Public Access barristers, who deal with clients directly, and those working with clients who have a right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman.
- Mandating disclosure of the information recommended by the CMA which has been categorised by the BSB as having a “very high” impact for consumers;
- Issuing guidance on disclosing the information recommended by the CMA which has been categorised by the BSB as having a “high” or “medium” impact for consumers (rather than making disclosure by barristers compulsory); and
- Allowing a targeted approach to the way in which information is disclosed, for example, by not prescribing precise forms of wording or fixed ways in which fees must be published.
With the other legal regulators due to consult on similar measures in respect of their own regulated professions, the BSB is seeking views on its proposals for the Bar as set out in detail in today’s consultation paper.
Speaking about the proposed approach, BSB Director of Strategy and Policy Ewen MacLeod said:
“Our view is that there must be a balance between improving consumer understanding and genuinely promoting competition on the one hand, and not overburdening barristers and chambers or producing information overload for clients on the other. We think that we have outlined an approach that would achieve that balance, but we are open-minded about the best way forward and want to hear views from consumers and from the Bar.
Our research has helped us identify good practice with regard to transparency already being undertaken by some barristers’ chambers. We want to build upon this in order to address the CMA’s recommendations more widely across the Bar.”
The BSB’s consultation closes at 5pm on Friday 5 January 2018. The BSB will be holding a series of meetings around the country in order to listen to the views of all interested parties. Details of these events will be available soon.
You can read the full consultation here.