23 September 2019

New approach to improve transparency for clients of the Bar

Last month weLaLast month we set out a revised approach to improve transparency standards for clients of the Bar. This responds to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study of legal services and takes full account of responses to one of our recent consultations.

The proposals agreed in principle at our recent Board meeting include:

  • targeting new price transparency requirements on the more standardised services provided by Public Access barristers, who provide services direct to the public and whose clients are most likely to benefit from "shopping around";
  • working closely with Specialist Bar Associations to develop guidance for barristers providing these services;
  • considering whether in relation to Public Access work disclosure requirements should apply only to certain chambers (which could be defined by size or type of service provided);
  • giving further consideration as to whether all chambers' websites should be required to state their most commonly used pricing models and that professional and/or lay clients (as appropriate) may contact chambers to obtain a quote;
  • requiring all chambers' websites to state the areas of law in which they most commonly provide services;
  • requiring all chambers with Public Access registered barristers to display a link through to the guidance for lay clients on our website;
  • requiring all chambers' websites to display a BSB logo, the text "barristers regulated by the Bar Standards Board" and information about any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO); and
  • further consumer testing to make sure that any disclosure requirements placed on barristers strike the right balance between helping consumers make informed decisions whilst not delivering overly complex information.

We agreed not to proceed with proposals to require chambers to publish first-tier complaints data. However, we will consider a requirement for chambers' websites to link to our Barristers' Register to enable clients to search for any current disciplinary findings by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS) in line with our disclosure policy. We will also explore the feasibility of a similar arrangement for complaints which have been upheld by LeO.

In considering how best to target new disclosure requirements, the Board agreed that delivering a proportionate approach to the CMA market study is best achieved by focussing on the Public Access Bar, where clients will most benefit from greater transparency of information about services, fees and rights of redress. We agreed not to impose disclosure requirements in relation to hourly rates and fixed fees on barristers undertaking work referred by solicitors. However, our view is that all barristers should be required to meet minimum transparency standards in relation to service and redress.

We have gathered evidence to inform our work through a series of "pilots" and will continue to undertake further research. This will ensure that our approach is robust and that any mandated disclosure requirements placed on barristers are reasonable and proportionate and, most importantly, will benefit consumers.

Following a further rule change consultation planned for later this year and approval by the Legal Services Board (LSB), these transparency requirements will come into force by May 2019. However, we are not proposing to make compliance with any fee transparency requirements mandatory until early 2020. The effectiveness of the new requirements rules will be evaluated from December 2020.