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The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has fired a warning shot to the Law Society and its members after it found the Surrey Law Society guilty of anticompetitive pricing practices.
Graham Horgan, OFT professional services division head, said that circulating pricing information among solicitors was an anticompetitive practice.
"From our perspective, we would consider this behaviour most likely to result in an increase in prices by solicitors," he said. "In a worst-case scenario, solicitors could set their prices in a collusive way with the knowledge of what other local litigators are charging."
The OFT found that the Surrey Law Society had on one occasion sent its members an anonymous version of the results of a survey, which included the hourly litigation rates charged by members.
Usually, pricing information from surveys conducted by Law Society branches would be sent to the courts and would typically be used by them when drafting guidelines on hourly rates that could be awarded on summary assessment.
The OFT closed its case after the Surrey Law Society agreed to cease circulating pricing information.
Fearing similar information may be distributed by other branches, the regulator has made a series of recommendations to the Law Society, stipulating that local societies ought to have an independent party carry out surveys. The OFT also recommended that survey results regarding pricing be submitted to the courts and not to local Law Society members.