The proportion of consumers going on review websites to help find their lawyer has hit double figures, while a majority would use a firm anywhere in the country, research has found.
It also highlighted interest in downloadable legal documents and the new breed of freelance solicitors.
IRN Research’s UK Legal Services Consumer Research Report 2021, based on responses from a national sample of 1,200 consumers, found that 10% were using review and comparison sites to find lawyers, up from 6% the previous year and 4% in 2019.
It said this could be a “watershed moment for digital comparison sites”, with legal regulators running pilot schemes bringing law firms and comparison websites together to trial different approaches.
Most consumers who consulted a lawyer during the pandemic used the phone, 28% used Zoom, Skype or a similar video tool.
Nine out of 10 consumers were comfortable with the tools and ready to use them again.
Despite these virtual exchanges, a slender majority of consumers (51%) said they would like to see their lawyer face-to-face at some stage.
However, 59% of consumers said they would think about using a law firm or solicitor anywhere in the country, an increase from 46% in 2019, when IRN first asked the question.
Researchers commented that many consumers had “traditionally turned” to the “numerous local law firms and solicitors” for help, but “things are changing”.
Last year, the Legal Services Board said its research, which showed significant regional variations in the price of legal advice “for what are fundamentally the same services”, should encourage consumers to shop around.
A large majority (83%) said they would be influenced in their choice of law firm by price information on websites, a similar finding to last year.
Recommendation from friends, family, and work colleagues was still the main way of finding a law firm, though, with 38% relying on this, a five point rise from the previous year.
There was also “a relatively high level of consumer loyalty”, with over a quarter (27%) going back to a law firm or solicitor that they had used before.
However, a quarter of consumers (25%) used internet search engines to find a lawyer, an increase of eight points on 2020.
Large majorities of consumers were either satisfied or very satisfied by the service received from lawyers.
The highest specific satisfaction rating was for ‘the approachability and attitude of the legal representative’. The lowest, as in previous years, was for ‘value for money’.
IRN said awareness of the top national consumer legal brands was “relatively high”, but use “remains low”.
The top three brands in terms of awareness were InjuryLawyers4U (recognised by 65% of those surveyed), National Accident Helpline (58%) and First4Lawyers (55%). The top law firm brands were Irwin Mitchell (45%) and Slater & Gordon (40%).
Two other brands had awareness levels over 30%, Admiral Law and Co-operative Legal Services (both at 39%). There were only two more, Thompsons and Which? Legal, with awareness levels in double digits.
The most heavily used brands in 2021 were Irwin Mitchell and Admiral Law, both used by 5% of consumers.
There was a significant increase in the use of unbundling, rising from 9% to 16%, with a majority of consumers (55%) saying they would do the work again themselves if another legal issue arose.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of consumers said they would either be likely or very likely to use a website with downloadable legal documents and templates if these were priced at just a few pounds.
A clear majority (60%) were similarly keen to use a freelance solicitor if they offered advice at a lower price compared to traditional law firms.
IRN added: “A key concern is that consumer understanding over regulation and the avenues for redress have not improved in the latest year and understanding is still extremely low.
“Not enough users of law firms knew that their law firm was regulated [24%], and only 16% of those who have used a law firm were aware of the Legal Ombudsman and understood that they could go to them as a last resort, if they had a complaint.”