UK regulator considers forcing law firms to engage with online review sites
Regulatory action needed to 'catalyse' change in legal market, according to the Legal Services Board
A UK regulator is considering whether to require law firms to sign up with review websites in order to improve market transparency.
The Legal Services Board – the oversight legal regulator for England and Wales – met today (8 June) to debate the findings of a market report on quality indicators which suggested regulatory action may be needed to ‘catalyse’ change in the legal market.
The paper leans towards a market-led approach to increasing law firm engagement with comparison and consumer review websites, but suggests a regulator-led strategy may be necessary should firms not embrace these platforms.
‘Our policy around quality indicators will be a key component of our upcoming statement of policy on consumer engagement,’ the report states. ‘We will expect regulatory bodies to make use of a variety of levers to effect change, including mandatory requirements on providers as required.’
Following the conclusion of today’s discussion, the LSB will refine its position on quality indicators and publish a response document and draft policy statement next month.
So far, regulators have been encouraging firms to voluntarily incorporate comparison and review sites into their strategies. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is currently mid-way through a pilot scheme aimed at bringing together law firms and review site providers in order to increase the amount of information on the quality of legal services available to the public online.
However, IRN Research reported last month that just 10% of people were using review and comparison sites to find legal support, just slightly up from 6% the previous year and 4% in 2019.
“The end of voluntary reviews is on the horizon,” said Michael Hanney, founder of ReviewSolicitors, which worked with the SRA on its pilot scheme.
“Law firms and lawyers have long been asked to take online reviews seriously and to voluntarily take them up... The LSB is clearly saying ‘look, you don’t want regulating, but we need the benefits that online reviews bring’. Law firms would be wise to adapt to the new world before it’s forced upon them. You can’t stop a good idea whose time has come.”
However, readers of The Law Society Gazette who commented on its coverage of the LSB's meeting today were overwhelmingly sceptical about the benefits of online reviews.
'As others have rightly said this is nonsense,' commented one anonymous reader. 'I do not even have a website, I offer my clients a bespoke service with fees to match and my work comes from existing clients coming back or personal introductions.'
Another wrote: 'How about review sites for professional regulators! “And the worse regulator this month is …”'