The proportion of consumers who shop around for lawyers has fallen for the first time in 12 years, but the use of unbundling is on the rise, according to new figures.
Back in 2011, the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s (LSCP) annual tracker survey found that 22% of consumers shopped around for legal services, a proportion which rose gradually to a peak of 43% last year, before falling to 39% this year – but this is still significantly higher than in the years before 2022.
The 2023 tracker, published today, recorded similar declines in consumers saying they found it easy to access information about legal services or see prices on firm websites.
The survey was carried out for the second time by MEL Research, which replaced YouGov last year, and contacted 3,500 adults who had used legal services in the past two years.
Those needing advice on family law (48%), injury claims (47%) and conveyancing (45%) were most likely to shop around.
Those living in London, aged 44 or less and from an ethnic minority were all more likely to shop around than the average.
Consumers most commonly looked at three providers (36%) and 70% took a week or less to make their decision.
The key factors that most concerned consumers when shopping around changed little, with price up two points to 56%, reputation at 45% and office location at 35%.
After that consumers were most keen to compare specialist knowledge, quality marks, online access and speed.
The top five reasons for choosing a particular law firm were having used the firm before, recommendations from family and friends, referral by another organisation, searching on the internet and seeing a law firm’s offices.
Consumers were slightly less likely this year to rate the service they received as good value for money (68%).
Belief that they had received good value was highest among those using will-writing services (79%) and particularly low among those using conveyancing (65%), probate (58%) and criminal law services (49%).
Six out of 10 consumers first discovered the price of their service by speaking to the provider, a rise of six points, while a diminishing minority, falling from 15% to 12%, found out by looking at the law firm’s website.
Three-quarters of respondents said they found it easy to understand the cost of their legal service, but only two-thirds found it easy to make price comparisons – a fall from three-quarters the previous year.
Most consumers preferred their first meeting to be face-to-face (50%), with the next most popular method being the phone (16%). Email was the most popular method for updates, queries and requests (44%).
Some 68% of consumers said it was important to them to meet the person working on their case in person.
Almost a fifth of consumers said this year that they had received at least part of their service through unbundling – the highest proportion on record, last recorded in 2015 and 2017. Younger consumers and Asian and Black consumers were more likely to unbundle.
Consumers were most likely to seek unbundled advice on employment disputes (37%), probate (34%), benefits or tax credits (34%), debt or hire purchase problems (33%) and landlord and tenant problems (32%).
Satisfaction with the legal service provided remained unchanged at 85%. The proportion of dissatisfied consumers who complained to their law firm fell slightly from 28% to 25%.
Meanwhile a fifth (21%) of those whose legal process involved a tribunal or court waited more than a year for their initial court date.
Sarah Chambers, chair of the LSCP, said the panel was “concerned” that shopping around has fallen after the pandemic.
She said the fact that fewer consumers found it easy to find information about legal services “only strengthened our resolve” to call the attention of the Competition and Markets Authority to the state of transparency in the sector.
“The panel would also like to see regulators acknowledge the reasons why consumers feel they need to meet with their lawyer in person at least once.”