Elisabeth

Davies: lawyers must work harder to break down barriers

Public awareness of the Legal Ombudsman is continuing to fall, while the number of dissatisfied clients who do not bother to complain is increasing, a survey has found.

At the same time, the research for the Legal Services Consumer Panel showed good levels of public satisfaction with what they receive from lawyers.

The survey indicated that public awareness of LeO fell from 65% in 2011 to 59% in 2014, while the number of dissatisfied clients who failed to complain increased to 44%, compared to an average of 29% across the services sector.

The second release of data from the consumer panel’s annual tracker survey found that knowledge of LeO was worst among the lowest earners and those from ethnic minorities, with only 51% and 54% respectively aware of the organisation.

While around 4% of clients actually complained to LeO, over 6% intended to complain, but were yet to do anything about it.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the consumer panel, said: “Every time someone feels powerless to complain about a lawyer, confidence in legal services is dented and law firms miss an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, innovate and improve the service they offer.

“The Legal Services Board has challenged the approved regulators to do much better on first-tier complaints-handling – our data suggests they must work even harder than their counterparts in other sectors to break down barriers to complaining.”

The findings were disputed by LeO, which said its own research had found “general awareness” was stable, at the much higher level of 78%.

A spokesman for LeO said: “We use an independent research company to monitor awareness levels each year.

“These results suggest that, contrary to a gradual decline in awareness of our service, stakeholder awareness is at its highest level to date (92%) while general awareness has remained stable at 78% for the last two years.”

The spokesman said LeO was working with partner organisations and lawyers to improve signposting, resulting in a 7% increase in people who said they had heard about the organisation from their lawyer.

The research showed that the proportion of consumers who believed they had received value for money increased by 6% last year to over 60%.

Will writing topped the table for outcome satisfaction, with 93%, despite the concerns over quality raised by a mystery shopping exercise conducted by the consumer panel back in 2011. As part of its response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority issued a guidance note on wills and probate earlier this month.

Conveyancing clients were also happy, with 91% satisfied with the outcome and 81% happy with the service.

Levels of consumer satisfaction with legal services across the board have remained consistently high, at 79%, during the four years of the tracker survey.

Researchers said a closer analysis of the data showed that client who found a lawyer through personal recommendation and local offices were more satisfied than those who found one through internet searches or company referrals.

Legal work which was obtained for ‘free’, either through union membership or ‘no win, no fee’ personal injury deals, produced the lowest levels of satisfaction.

As in previous years, lawyers were less trusted than doctors and teachers, but more than accountants, bankers, builders and estate agents.

The research, carried out by YouGov, is based on a representative sample of 1,896 adults, and a further 1,060 who have used legal services in the last two years. The work took place in February and March this year.

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