Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
We all know the line about damned lies and statistics, and there has been no shortage of the latter as Legal Services Act survey after Legal Services Act survey is published. Certainly the statistics reported today  by the Legal Services Consumer Panel can be interpreted in various ways.
Overall, 80% of people were satisfied with the legal service they received. Is that good? It sounds OK to me for a service industry which can, by its nature, produce disgruntled clients who fail to distinguish between an unfavourable result and the quality of service they received.
Or is it bad news that one in five people (quite a lot when you say it like that) either were dissatisfied or shrugged their shoulders and went ‘Meh’ at the question? What we don’t know is what all these people expected from a lawyer in the first place. If their expectations were low – which is likely in some cases, at least – then meeting them should not have been too hard, but that’s surely not a level of service to which the profession should aspire.
The question of whether the public trust lawyers is a troubling one. The consumer panel has majored on this aspect of the report and it doesn’t make great reading that fewer than half of those surveyed would generally trust lawyers to tell the truth, even if they scored better than accountants. Though ‘only’ 20% would generally not trust them to tell the truth, the indifference of the remaining 33% is not much better.
This is clearly relevant with so-called trusted brands poised to enter the legal market later this year – although we supposedly trusted the banks, and that ended up with them selling millions of people payment protection insurance they didn’t need, so perhaps what we really mean is that people gravitate towards the comforting familiarity of brands.
But it depends to some degree on consumers’ buying habits changing – consistent with every other piece of research on this issue, recommendation and referral remain the main ways in which people find lawyers, in which case trust is less of an issue. But if more people start using the Internet to find lawyers (only 8% of those surveyed did) and more than 19% of people shop around, then issues like trust and reputation (the most important factor when choosing a provider for those surveyed) will come ever more to the fore.
As with most surveys, the results threw up some inconsistencies. The next most important factor was that the lawyer was a specialist in the field, but equally most consumers are not using quality marks as a way to determine this. So presumably they are trusting what the lawyer is telling them about their expertise.
There was one worryingly consistent theme among the various results, however. This was that satisfaction and trust levels were lower among non-white respondents and those from lower social grades. This is dangerous territory, especially for the kind of generalisation I’m about to make, but it perhaps suggests that solicitors – broadly speaking a white, middle class bunch of people – are providing their services in a manner best suited to other white, middle class people.
Amid the blizzard of surveys that the Legal Services Act is generating, that is one finding that should give everyone real pause for thought.