Consumers increasingly shopping around for lawyers, panel finds

Chambers: Call for standardised information

Regulatory initiatives to encourage consumers to shop around, such as making it easier for them to compare prices, are starting to pay off, according to the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s 11th annual tracker survey.

The proportion of consumers shopping around for legal services has risen from 30% to 43%, while 75% said they found it easier to compare prices, up from 59%.

Those searching for family law services (55%), personal injury (52%) and conveyancing (48%) were the most likely to shop around. The biggest change here was the growth in shopping around for conveyancing, which rose from 38% the year before.

When choosing a provider, reputation was still the most important factor (82%), followed by price (81%), being a specialist in a given area, having a local office and speed of delivery.

The proportion of consumers saying they had seen information on law firm websites about services, along with staff profiles or timelines is now almost two-thirds (63%), a massive jump from last year’s figure of 44%.

The 2022 survey was carried out for the first time by MEL Research, rather than YouGov, and involved interviews in February or March this year with 3,500 adults who had used legal services in the past two years.

Researchers said face-to-face delivery of legal services had returned to pre-pandemic levels, rising from 33% to 44%, and leading to a corresponding fall in those relying on email/online service delivery.

Men were “significantly more likely to have used face-to-face services” than women, 46% compared to 37%, with female consumers more likely to have used email/online, 39% compared to 28%.

A significant proportion of consumers (28%) using email or online services “wanted more direct interaction (in person/by phone) with their legal professional than they got”. Researchers said this was particularly “notable” among women.

However, satisfaction rates generally remained high. A large majority (85%) said they were satisfied with the service, and 87% with the outcome. Satisfaction with clarity of information provided on costs improved the most.

Private client led the way in terms of satisfaction by service, as in previous years, with the highest scores for will-writing, powers of attorney and probate.

Consumers were less generous in saying they had received value for money, but the proportion was still high at 70%, up five percentage points from the year before.

They said that personal injury work delivered the best value (80%), a spectacular improvement from the 56% who said this the year before, followed by employment and will-writing.

Among those using a solicitor, 68% used a small local firm, a fall of seven points.

Whilst the proportion of consumers who funded themselves remained virtually changed at 69%, those using legal aid and legal expenses insurance increased, from 4% in both cases to 7% for legal aid and 6% for insurance.

Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said it was “happy to see that more consumers are now shopping around for legal services”, but noted that “still less than half” were doing so.

“Accordingly, we challenge legal regulators to step up their efforts to encourage more shopping around by showing providers how to standardise information about their services, including the way in which prices are presented, to improve comparability.”

Ms Chambers said the panel planned to help this happen with a forthcoming paper on standardisation.

“We continue to advocate for measures to help legal services consumers to make informed choices when seeking a service provider that can meet their needs. Collaboration between the regulators is needed to accelerate progress in this area.”

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