Research from the Legal Ombudsman Service has shown that more than a quarter of the complaints it receives are caused by a lack of clarity on fees.
This comes as no surprise to me. Consumers and businesses are increasingly price-sensitive. That doesn’t mean they mind paying a reasonable fee for a good service but it does mean they are extremely sensitive to any suggestion that they may be being misled on costs or even worse ripped-off.
Clarity on costs and fees is a movement that has become particularly entrenched in the financial services sector, with industry guidelines and legislation forcing transparency and prompting compensation payouts to consumers (notably in the case of PPI, Payment Protection Insurance).
However what applies to the banking and financial services sector today could easily apply to other professional services, including the law, tomorrow.
When the Ombudsman highlights negative trends and concerns among clients then the legal industry would be wise to listen and act voluntarily.
Last year QualitySolicitors introduced our Clear Price Guarantee – a promise to be transparent on costs and fees and a commitment to always provide cost estimates in advance ensuring that clients don’t pay for anything that they haven’t been told about.
Implementing transparency on costs and fees isn’t a hugely onerous or complex task, it’s broadly a process that involves a commitment to change corporate culture and to treat customers in the way you would want to be treated yourself.
This may sound simple, yet as the Legal Ombudsman research shows, failure to be transparent on costs remains a major issue across the industry.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, confidence in financial and professional services has been badly shaken. In the past clients would be far more willing to give service providers the benefit of the doubt and trust them to look after their affairs.
Today that’s changed and clients, quite rightly, want to be in control and to know what they’re paying for and what services will be delivered, in detail, before they get a bill.
The Legal Ombudsman Service research suggests that many legal firms have been slow to address this issue and to provide the transparency and clarity that consumers and businesses want.
That has to change and I would urge legal practices to act on the research findings not merely regard them as a point of discussion and interest.
Giving transparency on costs and fees requires operational change but doesn’t need major investment. It’s a simple step that will deliver a transformational change in attitudes towards lawyers and also encourage people to seek advice with greater confidence.
The key is clear and straightforward communication with customers, creating confidence and trust between the solicitor and the client.