"Access to justice- who is afraid of comparison website" is the title of a gathering last evening [24th November] organised by The Manchester Law Society. This brought together the Legal Services Board (Chairman Sir Michael Pitt and Chief Executive Neil Buckley), the Legal Ombudsman (the Chief Legal Ombudsman Kathryn Stone), the Legal Services Consumer Panel (Chair Elisabeth Davis) and the Competition and Markets Authority (Sharon Horwitz). The aim of the evening was to provide an update on price transparency, the role of comparison websites and other online tools in improving access to affordable legal services. Yes – lawyers are moving towards a world where “digital comparison tools” operate in a “sustainable comparison tools sector” !
To the lawyers who might want to say “legal services are different” and “it’ll never happen”, Kathryn Stone pointed out that there was a time when Marks & Spencer didn’t have a Christmas advert on TV. Indeed, a show of hands at the end of the evening saw just about everyone in the room was in favour of “transparency through comparison” in the legal sector.
So what about IP lawyers ? The words “intellectual property” were not used during the evening but IP is part of the overall picture. In 2015 the Legal Services Board published “The legal needs of small businesses” : Tables included in this report include “Intellectual Property” under the “Problems” faced by small businesses and and “Patent / trade mark attorney / agent” under “Business Support Services” used by small businesses.
Also there’s the Legal Choices website which is “here to help you with decisions about legal issues and lawyers” : https://www.legalchoices.org.uk/. The site is run by frontline regulators and includes a section on “Protecting Ideas” and (with a date of March 2015) a Quiz : https://www.legalchoices.org.uk/protecting-ideas/
I came away from the evening with eyes opened to the force of arguments in favour of there being “digital comparison tools” in the legal sector. Those giving presentations are moving on from “whether this should happen ?” to the questions of “how ?” and “when ?”. Affordable legal services is the objective and transparency is key – be ready !