Small businesses are set to get easier and cheaper access to legal advice after regulators announced it had found serious flaws in how the market for legal services currently operates.
The Competition and Market’s Authority, (CMA) recently conducted a market study into the legal services world and said SMEs often struggle to get the right type of information in order to make better decisions on how, where and when to buy legal advice.
“Small businesses,” the CMA says, “Are disproportionately affected by this lack of information and can find it hard to identify their exact legal needs and to choose the right provider”
As a result of its research, the CMA has issued a set of recommendations which it feels may improve the situation. They include:
- Working with regulators to require legal providers to advertise their prices directly on their websites so that pricing is transparent.
- Encouraging legal providers to engage with reviews and ratings online.
- Helping to develop online legal price comparison tools by getting regulators to make data available.
- Asking regulators to work with consumer and small business groups in delivering improved information standards on price, service, quality, redress and regulatory status and general guidance on purchasing legal services.
Executive Director for the legal services market study, Rachel Merelie said, “You might not require a legal service very often but when you do it will often be at a crucial point in your life – whether it is setting up a new business, buying a property, resolving disputes or getting expert advice on financial and employment matters.
‘Longstanding concerns over affordability’
“So it’s a real concern that there have been long-standing concerns over the affordability and accessibility of legal services. As an occasional requirement, customers do not approach this market with much in the way of previous experience and can be in the dark about the whole process. For some customers, it can either look too confusing or too costly and they can be put off seeking the help they might need.
“We’re pleased that regulators have recognised the need for change to ensure that individuals and small businesses get good value when they seek legal advice and representation. They will work towards providing common standards on the information customers need on price, service and quality, in addition to helping guide them through the process and options available.
“Better informed customers more equipped to assess and make choices will increase competition, not just on price – where currently a similar service can cost twice as much depending on the provider – but on quality and innovation. It will also mean fewer customers are discouraged from seeking the help they need.