Solicitors at smaller firms believe that clients’ focus on price is compromising their work and even their ability to uphold the law, a survey has suggested.
LexisNexis’s latest Bellwether research said the profession has a “perplexing blindspot” when it came to understanding the important of price for clients that indicated a wider “disconnect” between solicitors and clients.
“There is a more fundamental issue at play – namely, that both parties judge the value delivered differently,” the report, The Changing Face of Law, said.
Some 71% of more than 200 solicitors surveyed last year said their work has been compromised by client demands and their “consumerist behaviours”, with a third saying they experienced this type of “disruption” on a regular basis.
Nearly six in ten (58%) believed that price-driven clients were impacting on the ability of lawyers to uphold the integrity of the law and provide the best service to clients.
The main concern, expressed by a quarter of those surveyed, was that the pressure to reduce costs was driving down the quality of legal advice, with several arguing that clients did not seem to be aware of the compromise that price was having on the quality of the work they were buying.
“A small proportion of those we spoke with, meanwhile, also articulated the fear that consumerism and client-driven cultures are encouraging lawyers to engage in unethical practices.”
Solicitors reckoned that a third of their business, on average, was won purely on price.
The report said: “Solicitors think that complexity is not seen by clients as a legitimate driver of cost and or value.
“Clients will more readily accept seniority as a rationale for higher prices, according to 47% of respondents. The level of personal service – rather than automation – is also considered to be a slightly more acceptable explanation of increased costs.
“But if solicitors think that clients don’t value – and therefore understand – complexity as a marker of cost, why do they continue to use it?”
The report put the concerns in the context of the new Solicitors Regulation Authority rules on publishing prices for certain services. The survey showed large-scale opposition to and ignorance of the reforms, but it was carried out some months before the new rules came into force and guidance was published.
The disconnect between solicitors and clients showed in the former’s view that outcomes were the most important factor for clients when it came to judging value for money.
But when asked to rank the value they delivered and considered most important in the client relationship, the majority of solicitors cited service as their top priority, followed closely by expertise.
The report said: “There is a telling discrepancy between how solicitors perceive value as opposed to how they think clients rank it. However, price, again, is considered the least valuable part of the process.
“Not only is this a marked difference in priorities generally, it’s also surprising – given the increasing focus on pricing in today’s consumer-driven marketplace – that price is still not recognised as a top priority when it comes to judging value.”
The report said part of the problem was that clients were acting on a different value system from solicitors.
“Solicitors persist in underestimating the importance of price for clients, even while seeing price-driven consumerist behaviours all around.
“It’s a perplexing blindspot for the profession. Currently, the majority don’t perceive the need to focus, properly, on the role that pricing plays in a consumerist environment. However, this is a potentially risky position to hold.
“As long as solicitors cleave to traditional practices and ways of determining value and price, it is probable that the disconnect between law firms and clients will just get wider.”
Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis UK, said: “The internet has encouraged consumers of almost all products and services to be able to make quick and easy comparisons between providers and price is the easiest common denominator.
“Pricing is not the only area of disconnect between solicitors and their clients – however, this could be a slippery slope as there is a more fundamental issue at play as both parties judge the value delivered differently…
“Fundamental change is coming to the legal profession and we need to take a view on how the industry will develop to ensure that client expectations of outcome are met, while the profession’s expertise remains valued.”