Legal services is one of the markets most failing UK consumers, with bankers and insurers among those doing a better job, pioneering European Union research has revealed. Lawyers are just ahead of second-hand car salesmen, however.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel has branded the results “embarrassing” and said lawyers will have to up their game significantly if they are to resist competition from alternative business structures (ABSs).
The public ranked legal services – which was defined as including accountancy and notary services – at 45 out of 50 consumer markets. Only the markets in financial services, property services, second-hand cars, car repairs and gas scored worse than legal services.
Across the whole EU, only consumers in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Slovenia had a lower opinion of the legal sector.
The EU’s first Consumer Markets Scoreboard ranks goods and services sectors by looking at indicators such as price, consumer trust, consumer satisfaction, the ease of comparison, how often there are problems, the level of complaints and the ease of switching providers. Researchers spoke to 500 consumers in every EU country (plus Norway) with recent experience of each market.
The purpose of the scoreboard is to identify markets which may be underperforming for consumers. This provides evidence for policy follow-up, and feeds into the European Commission’s broader work monitoring the functioning of the single market. The three worst performing services across the EU were ‘investments, pensions and securities’, real estate services and Internet service providers.
The report outlining the findings said that innovation and increased efficiency are key to maintaining and improving the competitive advantage of the EU. “Empowered consumers, who can understand the ever more complex choices given to them, can reward the most efficient and innovative manufacturers and providers,” it said. “In contrast, markets where consumer rights are not protected and where consumers find it hard to identify and compare quality and price may experience consumer detriment, loss of confidence and reduced incentives for quality improvement and efficiency.”
Across the EU legal services did not score that well, ranking 38th overall. They fared especially badly on comparability, while it was a sector where the proportion of problems was high but the percentage of consumers who complained was low. “This may be explained by the existence of real or perceived barriers which deter consumers from complaining,” said the report.
Dr Dianne Hayter, chairwoman of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: “The survey makes embarrassing reading for the legal profession, which finds itself ranked lower than services, such as banking and the building trades, that are traditionally the scourge of UK consumers.
“The panel’s new research, which will be published next week, shows that consumers look most of all for excellent client care when choosing a lawyer. The EU’s survey suggests that the profession will need to up its game significantly if it is to hold off competition from ABS firms next year.”