The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has agreed to share data on dubious law firms with comparison websites.
The move to open data has been in a focus for the Legal Consumer Services Panel since 2011, who have been in talks with regulatory bodies to share data in a resusable format so that consumers can make better choices about their representation. It follows the rise of insurance, energy and communication comparison sites for consumers.
The panel asked the SRA to make contact details, firm size, any disciplinary findings, any complaints data and any distinguishable information available.
In response, Crispin Passmore, SRA director wrote a letter to the panel this month, stating: “We are currently planning to create a data extract that covers as many of the requested fields as possible. I expect to be able to update you further in September but our current expectation is that we can have this in place by Christmas.”
ComputerworldUK understands that it has been previously unable to do this due to disparate data across legacy systems.
The regulatory body is undergoing a new IT programme in 2015, and one aspect of this is developing its online register of solicitors’ firms to easily extract it on a regular basis to comparison sites after it has grouped the data in an online register.
Information held on lawyers is currently available to the public if they wish to call the SRA or other legal bodies and ask about a particular firm, but it has never been pooled in an accessible format online.
Legal bodies moving to open data
The Legal Ombudsman last week committed to publishing complaints data in a comma separated value (CSV) which will allow comparison sites to easily transfer the data. The Intellectual Property Regulation Board and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers have also pledged to share their information.
Elisabeth Davies, chair at the legal services consumer panel wrote on their website: “This feels like a really significant step which will allow comparison websites to provide quality of service information alongside the core regulatory data….Not every regulator is fully on board yet, but this progress is really positive and there’s scope to build on it in the future, with talk of publishing all the information in one place, for example on the Legal Choices website.
“The quest for open data has been at the heart of the Panel’s policies since 2011. Transparency is absolutely essential for consumers if they’re going to be able to make informed choices, protect themselves from harm and have confidence in the regulators.”
Mehrunnisa Lalani, director for consumer affairs at the SRA said: “The SRA has always said that it supported the view that consumers need to have all the necessary information and tools to be able to make informed choices when accessing legal services. It recognises the part comparison websites can play in giving consumers this added assurance.”
The body said it was not in position to describe what tools would be used to open up their data.
The public sector is seeing a drive toward open data across all departments. The Office for National Statistics is the latest to have an announced a single source for its data using Esri software.