Should our regulator be more visible?

Rachel Roche of  Roche Legal

Some time ago, I contacted the SRA about using their logo on my website and other materials.

I am a regulated practitioner, I thought, and I already display logos from Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), so surely the SRA would allow me to display their logo if I asked them?

The SRA refused.

I find this incredible. Particularly, because Outcome 1.7 of the SRA’s own Code of Conduct requires us to “inform clients whether […] the services you provide are regulated”. The SRA’s refusal shows they have not considered how to communicate this most effectively. What are you more likely to see: a few small lines of text with an SRA number, or a brightly coloured logo?

I am not saying the text should be removed. It is necessary to provide the details, but a logo would allow clients to see at a glance whether a firm was regulated. The SRA could even go a step further and make displaying the logo compulsory for regulated firms. Then the absence of the SRA logo would just as clearly indicate an unregulated firm.

The power of a logo

Logos are designed to be instantly obvious and visually stimulating. Some studies suggest that a logo can even change the way we feel about a product.

Displaying a logo ensures a regulator is recognised and visible to clients.

Recognising a logo calls to mind everything you know about a company in a flash. Think of the golden M-shaped arches of McDonalds, the BMW roundel, or a certain Apple with a bite taken out of it. Even if you don’t have first-hand experience of their products, you know what to expect when you see one of these logos.

That’s exactly the kind of ‘brand’ recognition that the SRA should be aiming for. Obviously, levels of recognition akin to the above brands would be near impossible. No one can pretend that a regulatory legal body is as glamorous as a luxury car manufacturer. However, the same principle holds true.

I would argue a client is more likely to look into the SRA if they see a logo they recognise. The more places that logo is, the more likely they will recall seeing it before. It’s a bolder statement and one which invites investigation. Squinting at an SRA number, on the other hand, just seems to say: ‘you don’t need to know about this, move along’.

These reasons alone should make the SRA allow the use of their logo. But there are many other benefits a higher profile would bring. Not just to the SRA but to regulated practitioners and the public as well.

Increasing public awareness of regulation

So much of what the SRA does depends upon public awareness. In the words put by their website they:

– “aim to give the public full confidence in the solicitors’ profession”

– “provide information to the public about solicitors, their work and the standards the public is entitled to expect”

– “aim [to] serve the public interest and protect consumers of legal services”

– “investigate concerns about solicitors’ standards of practice and compliance with the rules”

The SRA can’t meet these objectives if only a small proportion of clients know they exist.

Are clients unaware of the regulation behind our service assurances?

And yet this appears to be the current state of play.. A sample of 1,864 people were asked:  “Before now, which, if any, of the following organisations had you heard of?” Only 21% said they had heard of the SRA. By comparison, 73% had heard of the Law Society and 68% of the Legal Ombudsman.

Admittedly, the SRA is only ten years old. It’s a new organisation when compared with the Law Society and the Legal Ombudsman. However, to my mind, that’s all the more reason they should be doing everything they can to raise their public profile. Building a recognisable ‘brand’ (for want of a better word) has to be a top priority. And how many brands do you know without a logo featured front and centre?

A logo as a symbol of quality and client protection

We associate branding with commercial products, but is it also vital for public recognition of trusted services?

Clients receive numerous protections when using a regulated provider. Also, as regulated providers, we have to maintain standards of service and conduct. These are valuable selling points for clients to consider. Regulated firms should be entitled to shout them from the rooftops.

With those standards come the costs, however. Regulation is not cheap and it’s an expense which unregulated competitors don’t face. Whilst regulation is not optional for many of us, allowing a logo to feature in marketing materials could be a useful benefit.

I already mentioned how other organisations such as SFE and STEP allow members to display their logos. So do many other groups and schemes such as Law Society Accreditations. These can be valuable marketing focal points – marks of excellence which may attract potential clients. Alternatively, they can prompt clients to look into what they denote, even if they have never heard of them before. It really feels like the SRA is missing out on an opportunity here.

Do clients care about regulation?

You might question how much effect displaying the SRA logo would have on potential clients, especially if regulation does not influence their choice of legal services practitioner.

We’re very familiar with regulation when choosing financial products. Is that down to clear visibility and branding by the FSA?

However, there are indications that regulation is more than just a secondary concern for potential clients. A 2015 Survey for the Legal Services Board found a definite split: 48% looked into whether their provider was regulated before proceeding, whereas 38% did not. Interestingly though, of that 38%, 54% did not investigate because they assumed the provider would be regulated.

This suggests regulation is a consideration, even for those who do not look into a firm’s status. It also highlights the apparent lack of public awareness surrounding regulation. Clearly the SRA need to do more and I believe building ‘brand recognition’ through their logo would be an excellent start.

The shape of things to come?

There are signs that the SRA position on the use of its logo may change. A Legal Services Board from March 2016 included the recommendation for regulatory bodies to use recognised logos as a way of building public trust.

More recently, the SRA itself featured the issue in a consultation on consumer choice (see paragraphs 77 to 81 in particular). Perhaps this means the SRA logo will be more widely-displayed in the near future?

What do you think?

What are your views on the SRA’s position regarding its logo?

Is it reasonable to prevent regulated firms from using it?

Would proliferation of its logo help to make the SRA a more recognisable institution?

Do you think it would affect the way clients looked at our firms or at legal services in general?

I’d be very interested to know your thoughts – please use the comments box below.

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RachelRoche

Rachel Roche

Rachel is a Solicitor and the Managing Director at Roche Legal, a boutique private client practice based in the historic City of York. T: 01904 866 139 E: rachel@rochelegal.co.uk W: www.rochelegal.co.uk

4 thoughts on “Should our regulator be more visible?

  • April 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm
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    Hi Rachel – this is a very interesting article and well thought out. I agree it would help promotion of the brand of the SRA enormously if their brand was shown on regulated firm websites. A brand cannot work if it is invisible. It would also be helpful to show which firms are regulated to confirm to the Consumers that they are dealing with such a firm. regards ann

    Reply
  • Martyn
    April 4, 2017 at 1:14 pm
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    I agree Rachel. We need our regulator to be visually present on our engagement letters and our website, and there is no better means of communication that through a good visual logo. ICAEW have developed a great visual logo which they allow all members to use (http://www.icaew.com/en/membership/offers-discounts-and-services/business-offers-discounts-services/promoting-your-practice/icaew-logos/member-logos) – use of our regulators logo can help combat a huge problem we all face – lack of public trust in legal services and lack of knowledge about regulation and its benefits to our clients.

    Reply
  • PaulW
    April 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm
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    Good afternoon all. Interesting that you have had this experience. About four years ago I was called by The Law Society while PM and told that the practice had to remove the LS logo from its website and that the logo can not be used for or on any promotional material produced by the practice. For me this just summed up the total disconnect between the Society and its members. Interesting that the SRA should have a similar view given this very reasoned and argued article and the comments that have followed.

    Reply

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