A large majority (77%) of consumers are more likely to use law firms that publish their fees online, a major report has found.
A smaller majority (58%) would be prepared to use freelance solicitors, due to arrive this November with other Solicitors Regulation Authority rule changes, if they could save money on fees.
The study of 1,207 consumers by IRN Research also found worryingly low awareness by consumers of their rights, with only 22% knowing their legal services provider was regulated and even fewer (12%) that they could take a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
Seven out of 10 consumers agreed with the statement that “there are so many high street law firms and solicitors it is difficult to differentiate one from another and to choose the right one for a specific legal matter”.
Exactly half of consumers said they would only choose a legal services provider near them, but almost as many (46%) were happy to use a law firm “anywhere in the country” if they offered the best service.
Against this background, 77% said they would be more likely to use a law firm that had “clear price information” on its website than one that did not.
A narrow of majority of consumers (58%) said they would use a freelance solicitor, “not tied to a specific law firm”, if it meant lower fees.
The figure was 57% when consumers were asked whether they would use a freelance solicitor if it meant a more flexible service.
However, more than half (52%) said they would be concerned that a freelance solicitor “might not offer me the same consumer protection rights as a solicitor working in a law firm or other legal services provider”.
The UK Legal Services Consumer Research Report 2019 revealed a much higher use of Citizens Advice services than any other non-solicitor form of legal service.
More than a fifth of consumers (22%) had used Citizens Advice, compared to 6% who had used a claims management company or 4% a local law or advice centre.
Only 5% had used a barrister after a referral from a solicitor, but a further 3% had used a direct access barrister.
The impact of the government’s court modernisation programme was reflected in the 3% who had used an online service operated by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service.
Researchers said: “Law firms and solicitors continue to be the main source of advice, although use of other legal services providers is also significant, particularly Citizens Advice and other local agencies.
“Cost is also one factor behind over a quarter of consumers undertaking all or some of the legal process themselves.
“However, most of these have only carried out some of the work themselves passing the rest onto a specialist legal professional.
“At a time when law firms and solicitors continue to face pressures from new competitors, and online options increase for consumers to take on legal tasks themselves, i.e. the online divorce portal and online motoring offences portal from the Ministry of Justice, consumer law firms may need to be more flexible and innovative to deal with consumer demands.”
The report found limited enthusiasm by consumers for taking on the role of litigant in person.
Only 28% would be prepared to represent themselves in court to save money, compared with 68% who would always use a solicitor or barrister “as they know what they’re doing”.
Finding a lawyer for most consumers (61%) started with asking friends, relatives and work colleagues. Internet searches were mentioned by a third of consumers, but only actually used to find lawyers by 17%.
Just 18% said they would visit a website with consumer reviews to find a lawyer and 12% a legal price comparison site.
Commenting on the finding that a majority of consumers would be prepared to use freelance solicitors to obtain low fees or flexibility, the IRN report said: “Maybe more established law firms should start to look at flexible opening hours as well at a time when normal office opening hours don’t work for many consumers.
“Satisfaction ratings for law firms are generally good but one service feature that produced a relatively weak score was the ‘ease of reaching a legal advisor and talking to them’.”