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Trust in solicitors a key issue when consumers choose barristers

Barristers: expertise valued more highly than price

Consumers tend to shop around or use a public access barrister and ignore their solicitor’s recommendation when trust had broken down, according to Bar Standards Board-commissioned (BSB) research.

Some consumers who went directly to a barrister were also worried about ‘kickbacks’ or hidden relationships between their solicitor and barrister.

Market researchers YouGov and London Economics spoke to focus groups of 22 people who had used a barrister’s services in the past two years, and polled 1,316 participants.

It formed part of the research underpinning the BSB’s decisions on the levels of price and service transparency it will require of barristers, contained in a consultation published last week [1].

According to the report [2]: “Consumers tend to use their solicitor’s recommendation unless they do not trust their solicitor, in which case they shop around, get other recommendations or use a public access barrister.

“Public access consumers were more likely to report a lack of trust in their solicitor as a reason they chose to access their barrister directly.

“Those who looked for a barrister themselves did this mainly via online research and most of those who had a recommendation from their solicitor or friends/family, also did some online research to make sure they were satisfied with the recommendation.

“Often consumers don’t search because they are already under stress.”

When they were searching, participants tended to rate the expertise and proven track record of the barrister above price, although they still said price was a useful measure when comparing barristers.

The authors added: “It may be helpful to conduct research into how best to present the information (e.g. quality marks, testimonials etc.) so that consumers can understand and compare between barristers.”

Although disclosure of price or service did not impact substantially on whether consumers decided to make a comparison, transparent pricing meant they were less likely to shop around.

Consumers did worry that less expensive barristers may not be as experienced; at the same time, they often have no idea what a reasonable price should be.

While focus group participants did not mention regulation or complaints information, the authors concluded: “There is a general need to inform and educate legal services users, and those who use barristers specifically, about the implications of regulation and how consumers are protected.

“It may also be helpful to make information about regulation and consumer protection more transparent and salient on barristers’ websites. This may be particularly valuable for some potentially vulnerable consumers.”