Consumers see online review websites as a helpful tool to find a lawyer, with those needing family law advice particularly likely to shop around, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) research has found.
Price comparison websites are less used but also seen as valuable.
The research on attitudes to comparison websites for legal services forms part of the SRA’s work on developing quality indicators to help consumers choose providers, alongside the existing requirements on publishing price and service information.
We report separately on a survey conducted among law firms. Both surveys were published with no publicity earlier in the summer.
The SRA commissioned YouGov to poll 1,000 people who had used conveyancing, employment or family law services in the past two years. The sample was a good reflection of the population for gender and ethnicity but over-represented those aged 55-plus at the expense of 18-24-year-olds.
Asked the first step they took when they realised they needed a lawyer, people needing a conveyancer were most likely to contact a firm they had used before, while those requiring employment advice contacted their trade union or professional body.
Respondents needing family law services were the most likely to initially search online.
When all the online actions were added together – looking at a website, to find suitable firms, industry websites, review and price comparison websites – 41% of respondents used online information.
Nearly nine out of 10 respondents used review and price comparison websites for goods and services in general, but only 22% did so when searching for a lawyer. About two-thirds used multiple sites.
More than three-quarters of those who used a review website found it helpful when looking for legal services; the most common use was to support/check other information consumers had.
The rest did not use a site because in the main they were happy with who they were using or had been recommended to them.
More people were influenced by review websites than price comparison sites; consumers were less likely to be aware of or use price comparison websites for legal services, but 80% of those who did use them were happy with the information they received.
The most common reasons for not using price comparison websites was that people had a firm already known to them and that elements other than price were more important.
YouGov found that 37% of respondents, both for employment law and conveyancing, only found any information out about one firm, compared to just 18% for family law.
“This is likely to be that those using conveyancing are more likely to know who they want to use and those needing employment law might have been given a recommendation for a specific firm.”
Seven in 10 consumers said it was easy to find and choose a legal adviser; only 12% said it was difficult.
Asked which elements they found out before making their decision to instruct, price was asked about by the largest proportion (45%). This was followed by the lawyer’s experience (37%), how quickly the work could be completed (27%), what previous customers thought of the firm (25%) and the lawyer’s success with similar work (21%).
“Looking at respondents’ considerations when looking to instruct by area of law, price and how quickly work can be completed are important when looking for conveyancing. How much experience the lawyer has is significantly more important for employment and family law than for conveyancing.
YouGov found that those looking for family lawyers were more likely than the other two groups to visit solicitors in person before instructing them, rather than relying on telephone or email contact.
Around a third of people would use either a review or price comparison site if recommended by a regulator, and just under half maybe would.
The SRA said the insights from the two surveys would inform its thinking about how to provide consumers with the information they need about the quality of legal services.
The quality indicators pilot closed at the end of February and the regulator was now in the evaluation phase ahead of publishing its findings and conclusions later in the year.