Survey: shopping around works for legal consumers, but too few do it

Davies: this area is crying out for a clear strategy and leadership

The minority of consumers who shop around for legal services are likely to be more satisfied by the service they receive from their chosen provider, new research has found.

The results, which emerged in the second instalment of the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s annual tracker survey, also indicated that local offices, reputation, speed of delivery and having a specialist in their area are all reasons behind consumers’ choice of a legal service provider that come ahead of price.

The findings are likely to give encouragement to high street lawyers that there is everything to play for in the face of competition from new entrants to the market.

They also come as Legal Services Board (LSB) chairman David Edmonds has written to the frontline regulators again urging them to make “performance information” – including disciplinary records held on professional registers – available to providers of comparison websites to help consumers choose their lawyer.

The panel’s survey said that 22% of consumers shopped around for their provider – the same as in 2012 – with those for whom price was an important factor unsurprisingly more likely to do so.

Of those who shopped around, 89% were satisfied with the customer service they received and 65% with value for money, as opposed to 79% and 56% for those who did not.

The poll found that a wide range of factors influenced the choice of legal services provider, headed by reputation, which was mentioned by 72%. Overall, quality, location and service quality were seen as at least of equal importance to price. However, in conveyancing work, price was a more significant factor, whereas location was more highly valued for family work.

Satisfaction levels for providers who had been used before topped 90%, with those who had done research on the internet only just behind at 89%. A choice made after a personal recommendation left just over eight out of ten people satisfied. But finding a provider through a referral by another organisation or from seeing an advertisement, led to satisfaction for fewer than 70% of consumers.

Just over half (55%) of consumers who shopped around said they found this easy, and in a finding that showed once again the immaturity of the comparison website market and gave impetus to Mr Edmonds’ plea to regulators, just 1% of people found a lawyer that way – compared to over 50% of people who used one to find car insurance. Accreditation schemes fared only a little better, at 4% of consumers. Just 2% had used a customer feedback website.

Last autumn the LSB made it clear it viewed disclosure to comparison sites as indicative of regulators’ compliance with its approach to quality issues.

In a newly published letter sent to regulators last week, Mr Edmonds wrote: “I again strongly encourage you to consider… the provision and transparency of performance information”.

He backed the LSCP’s recent report on empowering consumers that raised the issue of “the availability of relevant information to consumers and providers of ‘choice tools’, which is needed to ensure that legal services consumers can indeed play a more active and empowered role”.

Elisabeth Davies, the panel’s chair, said: “Our research shows that it pays consumers to shop around, but not enough people are doing so. Legal services reforms have brought in a wider choice of providers, but this will make little difference unless consumers have the tools and confidence to search the market and vote with their feet.

“It’s difficult for consumers to choose and use legal services, but there’s much that regulators can do to make things easier. This area is crying out for a clear strategy and leadership, but no-one has yet to really grasp the nettle.

“We’re pleased the LSB has accepted our report’s recommendations and will work with them, the regulators and others to make real progress on this agenda.”

The first instalment of the YouGov survey, which earlier this year questioned two groups – a sample of 1,762 adults and another of 1,462 who have used legal services in the past two years – found a substantial rise in the use of fixed fees in family, probate and housing cases.



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