The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published two new reports on compliance with the regulator’s transparency rules and the impact on consumers of these rules.
The first report, entitled Compliance with the price, service and redress transparency rules, examines how well self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities are meeting the requirements of the transparency rules, which were first introduced in 2019. The report shows that the Bar has made encouraging progress in ensuring compliance with the transparency rules, as only 6% of those assessed during the period in question were neither compliant nor partially compliant with the rules. This result is a significant improvement on the figure of 25% from our last report in 2020 and is clear evidence that the Bar is making progress in meeting the transparency requirements and successfully implementing the guidance issued by the BSB.
The second report, Transparency Rules Evaluation: Impact on Consumers (research summary available here) was conducted to explore the impact on legal consumers of the transparency rules by looking at a number of key indicators relating to the objectives of the rules. These rules are designed to improve the information available to the public about the services a barrister can offer, their likely costs and how barristers are regulated so that consumers have more information to help them engage the services of a barrister. This report follows an earlier report which looked at the impact of the rules on the profession which can be found here.
The report found that among barristers’ clients, the proportion who obtained details of service or price before choosing a barrister increased from 10.25% on both indicators in 2019, to 23.4% obtaining details of services and 25.7% obtaining prices in 2021. The levels and proportions of complaints that relate to overall cost and clarity of information around costs have both declined, as has the level and proportion of complaints that relate to the timescales of cases. The percentage of clients ‘shopping around’ when choosing a barrister also appears to have increased – in 2019, 7.4% of barristers’ clients obtained details of services from more than one provider when making a choice, compared to 17.5% in 2021. Similarly, the proportion of all clients obtaining prices from more than one barrister has increased from 6.4% in 2019 to 19.8% in 2021. Awareness among clients of the regulatory status of their barrister has also increased from 63.3% to 71.3% (and to 83.7% for public access clients) and awareness of complaints procedures has also increased although the number of complaints from clients has fallen.
This evaluation will be used to inform the next phases of the BSB’s work around ensuring transparency for clients, including:
- this year, we will launch pilots on Digital Comparison Tools (DCTs) and unbundling in order to understand whether and how such approaches can promote access to barristers’ services for consumers and, depending on the outcome of the evaluation of the pilots, how the transparency rules should evolve to reflect the lessons learned.
- based on the information we have gathered through our compliance and supervision work, we will review our guidance to ensure there is sufficient clarity around current requirements and review how we communicate these requirements to the profession.
- while we are undertaking the DCT and unbundling pilots (which will provide a fuller evidence base in relation to third party platforms) we will consider whether there is a need for further interim guidance on how to share information with marketing platforms, particularly where that is the primary means through which barristers share information about their services.
- we will also consider whether we need further amendments to any rules or guidance.
- Next year we will consider whether we have evidence to go further in our transparency requirements in any area of practice
- In the longer term we will reconsider whether another evaluation might be helpful of the transparency rules (including of any incremental changes that are introduced).
- And on an ongoing basis:
- we will continue to check compliance of the Bar with the rules.
- we will continue to work closely with other regulators through the Market Transparency and Competition Oversight Group (MTCOG), the Remedies Programme Implementation Group, and the cross-regulator quality indicators working group to monitor the impact of the relevant transparency rules