The frontline legal regulators yesterday launched a groundbreaking consumer-facing information website that aims to demystify the legal profession for ordinary people.
Legal Choices does not link consumers to individual lawyers but addresses a variety of perceived gaps in the public’s knowledge of the legal profession. It follows research that found being unfamiliar with using a lawyer was a critical issue for consumers.
In his report to today’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) board meeting, chief executive Antony Townsend said: “Throughout December 2013 work continued alongside the six other legal regulators to shape the new… website.
“[It] for the first time brings together fully independent and impartial information about every type of lawyer in England and Wales. The website aims to empower consumers by providing them with the right information they might need to make good choices about legal issues and lawyers.”
The site has detailed information about the different kinds of lawyers and advice on such things as legal aid, questions to ask lawyers, legal insurance, and ‘no win, no fee’. It has a variety of links to services, such as the government-backed Money Advice Service and the Legal Ombudsman.
An interactive “Your Voice” section has “polls, surveys and quizzes” for consumers to take part in and invites comments on consumers’ experiences with lawyers. Features currently available include a link to ILEX Professional Standards’ survey on using a chartered legal executive.
A legal conundrum about a neighbour dispute over a fallen tree gives readers the chance to test their legal knowledge. In the end, one party seeks legal advice, which results in a letter that frightens the other party into paying up. But the relationship between the neighbours is ruined.
The site includes a section on legal issues, covering the spectrum of consumer law and offering “tips for surviving all sorts of legal issues, to help you work out what your legal choices are”. As it is currently configured, Legal Choices does not highlight prominently alternative forms of dispute resolution.
A report submitted to the SRA main board in September by the director of inclusion, Mehrunissa Lalani, said Legal Choices provides “a one-stop shop of factual advice and opportunities for consumers to have a say about legal services”. It would also “signpost people to information and support provided by different legal regulators and aim to help people with the choices and decisions they are faced with before, during, or after using a legal service”.
A spokesman for the Legal Services Board said the site was “a good first step towards helping consumers choose and use legal services”.
He added: “It is a positive example of the different regulators collaborating to deliver something that supports both consumer education and understanding. It addresses an identified desire from individual consumers for a one-stop source of information on legal services generally and is a good starting point in getting consumers engaged.”