How To Ensure Your Law Firm’s Compliance with the SRA’s Transparency Rules

If you have received a warning letter from the SRA warning that your law firm is not compliant with their Transparency Rules, you are not alone. The SRA is currently carrying out an “ongoing programme of proactive web sweeps” to find firms that are not compliant. A report for the SRA has found that nearly 6 in 10 law firms are failing to publish the full cost and service information, which is a requirement of the Transparency Rules. Unfortunately, failure to meet the requirements of the Transparency Rules can lead to fines. Indeed, the SRA towards the end of 2023, issued its first batch of fixed penalty notices to firms breaching the rules. In this article, we will discuss the SRA’s Transparency Rules, the fines for non-compliance and how to ensure that your law firm is compliant.

What Are The SRA Transparency Rules?

The SRA’s Transparency Rules were introduced on 6th December 2018 with the aim of helping prospective clients make informed decisions about the range of legal services available. The Transparency Rules contain four individual rules relating to cost information, complaints information, publication, and regulatory information. The rules must be followed by firms providing conveyancing, probate, immigration, immigration appeals, road traffic offences, employment law services, debt recovery, and licensing application services.

Regarding costs, the rules state that law firms must display detailed pricing information on their website in a manner that is clear and accessible (see below for more details on the level of information you must provide). Law firms must also display their complaints handling procedure, and regulatory information including their SRA number and digital badge on their website.

What Is The Penalty For Non-Compliance With The Transparency Rules?

Firms that are found not to be compliant with the Transparency Rules may receive a fixed penalty notice and be ordered to pay a fine. £750 fines have been issued to seven firms, to date, for not complying with the Transparency Rules. This follows three firms being issued with fines for Transparency Rule breaches in November 2023.

Regarding the fining of law firms for non-compliance with the Transparency Rules, the SRA’s Chief Executive, Paul Philip, stated, “Compliance is clearly not optional. Our transparency rules are there to benefit the public, helping people compare law firms’ services and make informed choices. All those firms that are publishing the correct information rightly expect that we will take action against those who don’t…We brought in fixed penalties so we could deal with non-complex breaches of our rules more swiftly. That saves everyone time, cost and stress. It also appears that the threat of fixed penalties is proving effective in bringing firms into compliance”.

In an SRA News Release dated January 2024, Mr Philip is quoted as saying, “We are here to promote the public interest and it’s essential firms comply with our transparency rules. They help people compare law firms’ services and make informed choices. Those firms that are publishing the correct information rightly expect that we will take action against those who don’t.”

How To Ensure Your Law Firm Is Compliant With The Transparency Rules

It is essential that when preparing your fees and service page for your website you go beyond simply displaying the fees for each service. What the SRA want to see is sufficient information to allow prospective clients to make an informed decision and what they will receive for their money. In addition to your pricing and services, you must include:

• the total cost of the service or, where not practicable, the average cost or range of costs;

• the basis for your charges, including any hourly rates or fixed fees;

• the experience and qualifications of anyone carrying out the work, and of their supervisors;

• a description of, and the cost of, any likely disbursements, and where the actual cost of a disbursement is not known, the average cost or range of costs;

• whether any fees or disbursements attract VAT and if so the amount of VAT they attract;

• details of what services are included in the price displayed, including the key stages of the matter and likely timescales for each stage, and details of any services that might reasonably be expected to be included in the price displayed but are not; and

• if you use conditional fee or damages-based agreements, the circumstances in which clients may have to make any payments themselves for your services (including from any damages).

Remember, it is important to ensure that any details you provide must be clear and easy to understand. Avoid using confusing terms or jargon.

Final Words

All law firms should be aware that the SRA is actively carrying out website transparency checks on law firms. We recommend checking your website and other forms of media (e.g. letter headed paper) to ensure you are fully compliant and to avoid the risk of a warning and/or fixed penalty. If you are unsure if your law firm’s website meets the transparency rules, speak to a specialist in SRA regulation who can review this for you.

We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory advice for 25 years. If you have any questions relating to an SRA investigation or an SDT appearance, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry.