Consumers select conveyancing solicitors mainly on recommendation, but clearer online information about price would help them make better choices, research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has found.
It also showed that 82% of consumers were very or fairly satisfied with the service they received from solicitors, and 72% thought it represented value for money.
The survey of 1,001 recent house buyers by the consultancy Economic Insight is part of the regulator’s work to improve transparency for the benefit of consumers, following the Competition and Markets Authority’s report in December 2016.
It was published together with a report into law firms’ attitudes towards publishing prices.
Economic Insight found that 37% of them chose their solicitor based on a recommendation from family or friends, while 35% followed their estate agent, bank or mortgage broker’s recommendation. The survey did not ask if they knew that a payment may be involved with intermediaries.
There was evidence of shopping around, however, with two-thirds of people saying that they considered more than one solicitor before deciding who to instruct, and 71% of respondents stated that they spent more than one hour searching for a solicitor online.
Most said pricing information was easy to find, although that generally involved having to contact the firm, rather than finding it online.
Economic Insight also undertook an online behavioural trial involving 4,001 participants. They were presented with a hypothetical situation, asked to review six versions of a fictitious firm’s website, and select the version they thought would best meet their needs.
Three of the versions were low cost and three high cost, which allowed people to make a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ choice based on the cost of the service – all other elements were the same.
The researchers said people found it difficult to make “good price-related choices, all other factors being equal”.
Only 58% of participants chose one of the three cheapest options. “Though there is some evidence that women and older groups are somewhat better at making such choices than the average participant, all demographic groups found it difficult to choose one of the cheapest options.”
“Both the survey and the trial strongly suggest that, although consumers care about price, they do not ‘focus’ on it when making choices. Only 6% of respondents to the survey said that they chose a provider because it was the cheapest and only 25% of participants in the online trial said that they chose a website because it was the cheapest.”
When participants did focus on price, they tended to choose one of the cheaper options, although the research said this was affected by the effort required to find price information – people were more likely to make a good choice when prices were readily available on the homepage.
The report concluded: “This research supports the view that increasing the availability of price-related information is likely to improve consumer decision-making in relation to conveyancing services, as previously concluded by the [Competition and Markets Authority] for legal services more generally.
“The research additionally suggests that increasing consumers’ ‘price focus’ – which itself may be influenced by increasing the availability of price-related information – will also contribute to improvements in consumer decision-making.
“Legal services providers therefore will have a part to play in being upfront with pricing information to help consumers to make decisions.”
It said consumers needed to understand that they have “a choice of price, as well as a choice of provider”.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “At the moment, people with a legal problem are struggling to find the information they need to make a good choice of provider.
“This research suggests more clearly signposted information on price could help people. Of course, it is only one part of the picture. Just as price is important, a firm’s reputation and expertise also really matter.”