Confidence in lawyers’ honesty and in their handling of complaints has fallen for the second year running, although people who have actually bought legal services remain happy with their own lawyer, a survey has found.
Belief among the general public both that their consumer rights will be protected when buying services from lawyers or that a lawyer can be trusted to handle a complaint were both down by 7% compared with findings in 2011, to 46% and 44% respectively.
In the fourth release of data from the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s annual tracker survey – which questioned both a representative sample of 1,762 adults and a slightly smaller group of people who had recently used legal services – it emerged that confidence in the legal profession, and other professionals, had continued to fall.
Consumer confidence in lawyers was a little higher than accountants, but lower than supermarkets despite the survey taking place soon after the horsemeat scandal.
When it came to confidence in complaints handling, lawyers inspired less faith than both of these providers, as well as banks and mobile phone companies. As last year’s results also showed, more than four in ten people still failed to complain even when they were dissatisfied.
For the third year in a row, a high proportion of people felt much warmer towards their lawyer than about the legal profession as a whole. Almost four out of five people (78%) voiced satisfaction with their own lawyer.
Lawyers may take some pleasure in knowing they rank third overall in the general trust-in-professions stakes, despite trust having fallen for the second year to just over 40%. People surveyed found lawyers less trustworthy than doctors and teachers, but more so than accountants, shop assistants, bankers, and car mechanics. Only estate agents had the trust of fewer than one in ten of those surveyed.
Women were slightly more likely to trust lawyers, although this belief fell from 47% to 43% over the past year. People aged below 35 were significantly less likely to reveal faith in lawyers – 37% compared to 48% among the over 55s.
Elisabeth Davies, the consumer panel’s chair, said government plans to stimulate the economy through consumer spending would be harmed by falling trust, adding: “The consistent message in our recent work – and which will underpin our response to the Ministry of Justice review – is the need to maintain a strong safety net to protect consumers alongside market liberalisation reforms.
“Consumers need assurance that quality standards will be upheld, that regulators are active and on their side, and that whatever their legal need, they can complain to an independent body if things go wrong.”