Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Solaw International Ltd (t/a QLTS Advantage)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 18 March 2020
Law stated as at: 15 May 2020
In March, the ASA upheld a complaint that Solaw International Ltd (t/a QLTS Advantage) made misleading claims concerning its City Law School-affiliated Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) training course.
The QLTS Advantage website, www.qltsadvantage.com, stated that City Law School, University of London, was “#1 QLTS provider”, “#1 real QLTS training school”, “#1 The only QLTS School with Live Tuition” and “ranked ‘top ten’ in the UK for graduate employment and operates one of the best law schools in the world” with “6000+ Happy Clients”.
The website also claimed that the QLTS Advantage course had the “Highest pass rates – ever – in both MCT and OSCE most recent exams”.
Rather than provide a substantive response, QLTS Advantage challenged the ASA’s jurisdiction, relying on their US establishment and non-UK customer base to take them outside of the ASA’s remit. Claiming they had no way to reliably state the exact location of their online customer base, QLTS Advantage using billing address information to estimate that 95% would likely be based outside of the UK.
Under section II.c of the Code the ASA is empowered to take action against promotions and marketing communications on non-UK websites if they are targeted at UK consumers, and if the country from which they originated does not have an equivalent self-regulatory authority.
The ASA accepted that advertising for QLTS training providers would likely have a global reach given the target market of foreign-qualified lawyers wishing to gain UK accreditation.
However, having consulted with the SRA, the ASA confirmed there was a significant UK market for QLTS training: non-UK nationals working as foreign-qualified lawyers at UK offices of international law firms and who wanted to qualify as UK solicitors. While the SRA did not endorse any QLTS training providers nor regulate QLTS training, it wished to ensure that the market was fair.
The ASA were not convinced by QLTS Advantage’s customer location evidence. Nationality and billing address information would not confirm what percentage of those customers where physically present in the UK at the time they purchased the training course. The ASA helpfully pointed out that robust evidence by way of comprehensive data to clearly show customer location at the time of purchase could have been provided by using web analytics tools. QLTS Advantage had failed to provide such evidence.
The ASA were satisfied that although the majority of target consumers for QLTS courses may be overseas, the significant minority based in the UK (and absence of an equivalent self-regulatory authority in the US) brought the complaint within the ASA’s remit.
As far as misleading claims were concerned, as part of its patchy response QLTS Advantage stated that it used “#1” to mean various things, as they did similarly with the term “Real” throughout their website.
QLTS’ apparent substantiation of its pass-rate claims did not stand up and it transpired were reliant on customers self-reporting their successes. It was also clear that, given that a total of just 2000 people had taken the QLTS assessment since its inception in 2011, QLTS Advantage’s “6000+ happy clients” largely consisted of customers accessing non-QLTS products and the claim was misleading.
Unsurprisingly, the ASA found that in the absence of clear qualifications most claims would be understood by readers to mean that QLTS had been objectively ranked as “top” of the various classes it referenced. No information was provided to consumers to help them understand the claims and none of the comparisons made with competitors were verifiable. It was held that none of the statements or comparative claims made could be adequately substantiated and were therefore misleading.
Why this matters:
The ASA doesn’t often have an opportunity to rule on its jurisdiction. This is a useful insight into how the ASA will approach that question and the kind of data it requires to evidence customer location claims.
Advertisers and marketers should be cautious when using words such as “real” and making claims that their offering outstrips competitors. Even when targeting a potentially sophisticated customer base (we lawyers do think a lot of ourselves), in the absence of clear qualifications it may be held that readers understand “#1” or similar claims to mean the offering has been objectively ranked.