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How not to bury bad news

Posted by Louise Restell, head of public and legal affairs at Legal Futures Associate Russell Jones & Walker [1]


Restell: Tesco would be out of business if a quarter of its customers were unhappy with its service

I’m not sure how the Law Society Gazette was hoping to reassure solicitors with its recent story “Consumers unattracted by non-legal brands” [3].  The headline may sound promising, but as the statistics unfold it becomes quite clear this was not a good news story for the legal profession.

The poll, by law firm referral service Contact Law, found that 66% of consumers said they would not be happy to buy legal services through non-legal brands… but did it ask what type of legal services? There is a big difference between, say, needing a straightforward will and contesting probate. I am a big fan of ‘consumerising’ legal services, but I would not necessarily want to have a complicated and sensitive transaction carried out by Tesco. I’d be happy to get my will from them though.

But this isn’t really bad news, more misleading information. The Gazette tried to hide the really bad news further on and dress it up with smiley language. Apparently clients were ‘broadly satisfied’ with solicitors’ costs, with 59% (yes 59%!) saying their most recent lawyers’ fees were justified. This is just bananas. If any other business had only a 59% satisfaction rating on price, including Tesco, it would go out of business.

The survey is just as damning about service levels. The Gazette happily highlights how service is more important than price when choosing legal services (84% of consumers say so) but then goes on to report that a quarter of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the service they received from their lawyer. A quarter! Shocking – again, Tesco would be out of business if a quarter of its customers were unhappy with its service. And, even more depressing, this would appear to be worse than the one in six dissatisfied with their solicitor’s service that Which? found in 2005.

To be fair, the analysis given by Contact Law director Dan Watkins at the foot of the article does put the figures in perspective, but this only partially clouds the sunny picture painted by the Gazette. It seems to me that this does a disservice to solicitors by telling them that it’s going to be alright, because it won’t be.

It’s probably fair to say that not so many years ago, consumers would have said they wouldn’t want to get a loan from Tesco or manage their bank account online, but they do now. So I don’t think we should read too much into their apparent reluctance to get their legal services that way.