Face-to-face advice remains important to clients in several key areas of legal work and can help ward off complaints, Legal Services Board research has found.
The research by YouGov discovered face-to-face advice most prevalent in family matters and will-writing, with 79% and 76% of respondents saying at least some of the service was provided in person, and least so in personal injury claims and problems with consumer goods or services (21% and 26% respectively).
Advice was provided in person in 46% of conveyancing matters, the next lowest figure.
The findings will give hope to many solicitors facing competition from a variety of remote ways to provide legal advice.
Overall the way in which the service was provided to the 1,275 clients who took part in the survey was evenly distributed between those who said it was provided in person and those who said it was provided in writing or over the telephone.
“The results indicate that respondents who used a legal service for will-writing, family matters and power of attorney are more likely to state that the service was provided in person,” YouGov said.
It added that qualitative research with dissatisfied clients, undertaken alongside the quantitative survey, showed “clearly” that clients felt face-to-face contact at the outset would have prevented the poor service received – “it would have given them the personal contact which they felt they needed to explain their case and get their points across”.
The research also looked into how the clients had found their lawyer. “Unlike other services such as insurance, where a price comparison model is generally used, choosing a legal service provider is very much down to reputation and past experience,” YouGov said.
No one method dominated, with referral by another organisation and “I/my family member had used the provider before” leading the way joinly with 18%. They were followed by a recommendation by family/friends (14%), an Internet search (7%), the client seeing local offices (7%), and responding to local advertising (5%).
These factors weighed more heavily in different areas of law; seeing local offices was one of the main reasons that helped clients with family or power of attorney problems to choose a particular firm, while local advertising was a significant factor for wills and personal injury clients.
The research found that lack of competency among the personnel involved was a key driver of dissatisfaction. “What came across quite often was that consumers were led to believe a senior member of the firm would be dealing with their case, only to find that it was being handled by a junior member or trainee.”
The main thrust of the research underlay the board’s warning last week that many lawyers are not complying with their complaints signposting obligations.