New rules to improve transparency standards for barristers clients came into force on 1 July. The new transparency standards are designed to improve the information available to the public before they engage the services of a barrister. BSB Director of Strategy and Policy, Ewen MacLeod explains what is changing.
In December 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) recommended that legal regulators deliver step changes to their transparency standards to help consumers understand the service they will receive, the fees they will be charge, what redress is available to them if things go wrong and the regulatory status of their provider.
In the two years following the CMA’s report, we have published a policy consultation on transparency standards, our revised approach to improving transparency and finally, a consultation on the new transparency rules.
There are mandatory rules on transparency for all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities, who must comply by providing information about price, service and redress on their websites. If you do not have a website, barristers must make sure that the required information is available to consumers in hard copy and that it is available on request.
The new rules require self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities to:
- State that professional, licensed access and/or lay clients (as appropriate) may contact the barrister, chambers or BSB entity to obtain a quotation for legal services;
- Provide contact details;
- State the barrister, chambers or BSB entity’s most commonly used pricing models for legal services, such as fixed fee or hourly rate;
- State the areas of practice in which the barrister, chambers or BSB entity most commonly provides legal services;
- provide a description of the barrister, chambers or BSB entity’s most commonly provided legal services;
- Provide information about the factors which might influence the timescales of the barrister, chambers or BSB entity’s most commonly provided legal services;
- Display the appropriate “regulated by the Bar Standards Board” text on the homepage: for sole practitioners, “regulated by the Bar Standards Board”, for chambers, “barristers regulated by the Bar Standards Board” and for BSB entities, “authorised and regulated by the Bar Standards Board”;
- Display information about the complaints procedure, any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), how to complain to the LeO, and any time limits for making a complaint;
- Link to the decision data on the LeO’s website; and
- Link to the Barristers’ Register page on the BSB’s website.
This information must be made prominent and sufficiently accessible on websites and kept accurate and up to date. For those who do not have a website, it must always be readily available in hard copy.
For those undertaking Public Access work there are also additional transparency rules. This includes self-employed barristers undertaking Public Access work, and BSB entities supplying legal services directly to the public. If any barristers practising from a chambers are undertaking Public Access work, or if a BSB entity is supplying legal services directly to the public, websites must link to (or barristers must provide hard copies of) the Public Access Guidance for Lay Clients, which can be found on our website. If barristers provide the Public Access services listed in the current version of our price transparency policy statement then, in certain circumstances, they must also comply with additional transparency rules in relation to those services. The relevant Public Access services are:
- Employment Tribunal cases (advice and representation for employers and employees);
- Financial disputes arising out of divorce;
- Immigration appeals (First-tier Tribunal);
- Inheritance Act advices;
- Licensing applications in relation to business premises;
- Personal injury claims;
- Summary only motoring offences (advice and representation for defendants); and
- Winding-up petitions.
If you are a barrister who provides these Public Access services then, in certain circumstances set out in the policy statement, the rules require you to:
- State pricing model(s), such as fixed fee or hourly rate;
- State indicative fees and the circumstances in which they may vary;
- State whether fees include VAT (where applicable);
- State likely additional costs, what they cover and either the cost or, if this can only be estimated, the typical range of costs; and
- State and provide a description of the relevant Public Access services, including a concise statement of the key stages and an indicative timescale for the key stages.
Sole practitioners will need to provide price information as an individual barrister, chambers will need to provide price information either in relation to (1) individual barristers, or (2) barristers in chambers in the form of ranges or average fees, and a BSB entity will need to provide price information in relation to the entity.
We also published Transparency Standards Guidance, which is available to read on our website, in order to provide further information and help for barristers in complying with the new rules. It includes resources such as checklists, examples of how to provide hard copies of information and examples of the required transparency. It also encourages barristers to go beyond the mandatory rules and offers guidance on best practice transparency to help you do that.
Barristers are required to comply with the new transparency rules as of now, but there will be an implementation period until January 2020, during which time we are committed to working constructively with the profession as they make the necessary changes. All self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities are expected to be fully compliant with the rules by January 2020. Spot checks will take place at the end of the implementation period although our emphasis will be on helping you to comply rather than taking disciplinary measures.