Guest blog: New transparency rules imminent

15 May 2019

New Bar Standards Board (BSB) transparency rules for barristers' websites expected to be introduced in May 2019

The BSB is planning to introduce new rules into the Handbook in May or June, pending approval by the Legal Services Board. The new rules will require barristers to give greater information on their websites about who they are and what services they provide. These have been introduced in response to recommendations by the Competition and Markets Authority for greater transparency by lawyers in relation to pricing, service and redress information. Similar rules have already been introduced for solicitors. Once in effect, there will be an implementation period and the BSB will commence compliance spot checking in 2020.

Some of the new rules will apply to all barristers, chambers and BSB entities, whilst some will only affect barristers and BSB entities supplying legal services directly to the public. The rules are designed to ensure compliance with a new 'outcome' in the Handbook , oC36, which states 'Clients are provided with appropriate information to help them make informed choices and understand the price and service they will receive'.

A summary of the new rules is below. For the full requirements please see the " Draft New Transparency Rules". However please note that the final rules published in May/June could differ.

The following new transparency rules will apply to all barristers, chambers and BSB entities:

  • All letterheads, emails and website homepages must state 'regulated by the Bar Standards Board'.

  • Websites must state that lay and professional clients can ask for a quote. If 'sufficient information; has been provided by the client and the barrister or chambers would be willing to provide the service, then a quote must be provided in clear and understandable terms in a reasonable time.

  • Websites must state the most common areas of law and type of services offered, and any factors which might influence the timescale of the provision of those services.

  • Websites must state 'their most commonly used pricing models' (e.g. hourly rate, fixed fee).

  • Websites must have information about complaints procedures and rules, links to the BSB Register and the Legal Ombudsman's decisions.

  • Website content must be reviewed annually to ensure compliance with these rules, and barristers and chambers must provide their website address to the BSB.

The following additional requirements apply to barristers and/or their chambers offering to undertake public access work as well as BSB entities supplying legal services directly to the public:

  • Websites must have a prominent link to BSB's ' Public Access Guidance for Lay Clients' guidance document.

  • For the following types of work additional information must be provided: Employment Tribunal cases, Financial disputes arising out of divorce, Immigration appeals, Inheritance Act advices, Licensing applications in relation to business premises, Fast Track personal injury claims, Summary only motoring offences and Winding-up petitions. Where work falling into these areas is offered directly to lay clients websites must state:

    • pricing model (e.g. fixed fee or hourly rates);

    • indicative fees;

    • whether fees include VAT;

    • any likely additional costs;

    • a description of the service offered, including 'key stages';

    • an indicative timescale for the 'key stages'.

The BSB has produced draft, ' Price Transparency Standards Guidance', which gives template examples of how this additional information may be provided.

Andrew Granville Stafford is a barrister in the Chambers of Timothy Raggatt QC. He is Head of the Bar Council's Direct Access Panel and a former Chairman of the Public Access Bar Association. Since 2015 he has been an elected member of the Bar Council and sits on its Ethics Committee and Legal Services Committee. As 'Barristers Direct' he provides BSB approved public access training courses for barristers.