Consumers “more likely to both shop around and complain”

Chambers: Improving competition

Consumers of legal services are more likely to shop around and to make a formal complaint if they do not get what they want than in previous years, new research has found.

The tracker survey by the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) – now in its 10th year – found that the proportion of consumers shopping around has reached 30%, the highest level to date.

“While younger consumers remain more likely than older ones to say that they shop around (with 44% of 18-34 year olds doing so in comparison to 26% of those aged 55+), this can mainly be explained by the difference in the types of services older consumers are more likely to use (e.g. will writing, probate),” the report said.

“However, within a service such as conveyancing, we do find that younger consumers are more likely to shop around for a provider than older consumers.”

Those who shopped around more frequently looked at three providers before making a decision – most considered there to be a fair or great deal of choice.

But despite the introduction of the new price transparency regime in December 2018, almost two-thirds of consumers (64%) found the price of their service by talking to their provider.

A large majority (77%) said they found it easy to understand the information provided about the price of legal services.

However, there was a big rise, from 25% to 33%, in those who said they were presented with ‘confusing prices’ when shopping around.

There was also an increase in those who reported not being provided with upfront information on price when shopping around, from 42% last year to 47%.

The LSCP said researchers from YouGov spoke to 3,623 people who had used legal services in the last two years. The research took place pre-lockdown.

Those looking for immigration advice (41%) and conveyancing (38%) were the most likely to shop around, compared with only 18% for probate services.

The main driver of choice remained reputation (81%), followed by price (72%), providing specialist advice (71%), speed (68%) and convenience, including having a local office (66%).

Ability to understand information about price was linked to the type of service. Those using will-writing services were most likely to say they found it easy (91%), followed by conveyancing (79%).

Those seeking advice on personal injury (16%) or family matters (15%) said they found it most difficult to understand information about price.

Consumer satisfaction with legal services stayed at the record high of 84% recorded for the past two years. Will writing and powers of attorney topped the list for satisfaction, while personal injury scored the highest for dissatisfaction.

Perceptions of value for money remained relatively high but static, with 64% saying the overall service and advice provided was good value for money

Legal services were most likely to be delivered face-to-face (44%), in line with previous years, while the proportion accessing services online grew slightly to 34%, its highest level yet. This may well change in next year’s survey once the impact of Covid-19 is factored in.

Satisfaction rates were highest with face-to-face services (91%) and lowest with those delivered online (73%). Researchers said this could be linked to the type of work, with will writing and powers of attorney more likely to be delivered face-to-face.

White British consumers were more likely to use face-to-face services than those from BAME backgrounds, 46% compared with 32%, while BAME consumers were more likely to use online services, 39% compared with 30%.

The percentage of consumers who made a formal complaint increased from 14% last year to 21%, while the proportion of ‘silent sufferers’ – consumers dissatisfied with the service received but who did nothing about it – fell slightly to 36%.

Just over half (54%) of consumers know how to go about making a complaint about the service they received.

One in seven consumers used unbundled services, with those facing immigration, benefits or tax credits, and probate matters the most likely to do some of the work themselves.

Sarah Chambers, chair of the LSCP, commented: “I am pleased to see that more consumers are shopping around and raising their complaints formally with providers when things go wrong. These developments will improve competition and raise standards in the market.

“We commend regulators for continuing to push the transparency agenda, but we are disappointed to see that consumers are still struggling to find adequate information on price.”

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