By Legal Futures Associate Tower Street Finance 
Consumer shopping for legal services has undergone a sea change over the last year as people young and old have taken to their devices to research and buy everything from home gym equipment to probate services.
And it’s a trend that is here to stay according to the UK Legal Services Consumer Research Report 2021. Its survey found that 90 per cent of its panel are now comfortable with video calls and happy to use them even when face to face appointments are available.
Add to this that, as a result of the pandemic, a Will or Power of Attorney can now be validated virtually, and legal firms find themselves operating in an environment where geography is no longer a deciding factor in the choice of a probate solicitor.
The survey backs this up. For the first time since it began, the consumer panel said they would be happy to consider a lawyer anywhere in the country and they are turning to search engines and comparison sites to make their decisions – primarily based on cost.
This is bad news for the probate sector, which is notoriously fragmented and not very transparent about charges. Online pricing information for the full end-to-end administration ranges from firms that provide initial advice free followed by a fixed price of around £2k to those that charge a percentage of the estate to manage it, which, in some cases could run into tens of thousands of pounds.
But cost and clarity of pricing matters to the consumer, now more than ever as they are used to researching products and services online, digesting reviews and only making the decision to buy once they feel they’ve identified the best service or product for them at the best price.
For a sector that has stubbornly refused to adapt to changing consumer communication preferences, and relied on a traditional and opaque approach to client/lawyer relationships, the survey findings, particularly around cost and transparency, are the clearest indicator yet that change in the legal sector is coming – whether firms are ready for it or not.
Eight out of ten consumers (83 per cent) are now influenced by price information on a firm’s website and will choose one that provides clear information.
And this could disrupt the probate landscape over the next couple of years in the same way the pandemic has disrupted our lives. The top two players hold just 3 per cent market share between them. The remainder of business is split between thousands of other firms, which range from a large probate team to a one-man band.
There is no clear market leader for probate services but the time and the environment is right for one to emerge on the back of consumer changes driven by the pandemic.
But any firm eyeing the opportunity has more than just cost and transparency to consider. The centralisation of probate services, the new online system and the failure of financial institutions to respond to requests in a timely manner has led to long delays in completing probate.
Our own research revealed 43 per cent of people have no idea how long the probate process can take. And for those people waiting for an inheritance, it won’t matter what is causing the hold up. If they are dealing with a law firm they will perceive the delay as their responsibility and consider the service poor if it isn’t addressed.
But there is a solution to the perception of poor service, which fills the gap between client expectations of the speed of probate services and the reality, and that is our products.
We’re a unique inheritance lender with a suite of products that help clients access their inheritance sooner, pay an inheritance tax bill or dispute a will – that in turn improves the solicitor-client relationship and mitigates against a poor service review online.
For more information about Tower Street Finance products and how we work with solicitors visit: www.towerstreetfinance.co.uk .