Samantha Bray discusses the SRA Transparency Rules and the lessons learned reviewing hundreds of law firm websites.
Just before Christmas, the SRA sent out a considerable number of letters to law firms with ‘non-compliant’ websites.
Some firms were caught out on minor technicalities. You might argue that the regulator is being overly picky (especially in an age of supposedly principles based regulation), and on occasion goes beyond the letter of the rules.
Even so, it is sensible to review your own compliance to avoid unwanted SRA attention.
Back to basics – the SRA Transparency Rules
There are a very specific set of requirements, with four key areas covered:
- Rule 1 – Costs information
- Rule 2 – Complaints information
- Rule 3 – Publication
- Rule 4 – Regulatory information
Rule 1 only applies to some legal services. Please see this post for more details.
Rules 2-4 apply to all SRA regulated law firms.
There is a raft of official SRA guidance available.
Common mistakes and breaches
We have reviewed hundreds of law firm websites since the SRA Transparency Rules came into effect.
The profession was slow to comply. Something like three-quarters of law firm websites were not compliant after the rules had been in force for a year.
But that has changed. We are now largely looking at far fewer websites that plainly breach the rules. Most non-compliances are now far more subtle – and harder to spot!
In our experience, the most common breaches are:
- Company information incomplete (to include registered address and company number)
- SRA number not present
- No reference to VAT in costs information (the SRA says you should also specify the current rate of VAT)
- No information about team members’ qualifications, experience and supervision structure
- Complaints information incomplete (the SRA wants your policy to include their contact details or link to ‘report a solicitor‘)
Remember, key transparency information must be in a visible place. Tucked away in a link that is not overly obvious is not considered ‘visible’, which results in a black mark.
Whilst these might sound like picky things (and they are), it does pay to look at your website in the same way an SRA auditor would.
- Review regularly – at least annually, and record your review
- Ensure consistency – do your client care letter and terms of business tie in with the information on your website?
- Get another pair of eyes – a review by an independent third party can increase objectivity
- Update your website – somebody has to be in charge of updating transparency information when things change (e.g. you put prices up, disbursements increase, and staff movements)
- Think like a regulator – this is most definitely a tick-box exercise.
Free transparency checklist
We use a standard checklist for all our website reviews and audits. Feel free to make use of this free resource.