Types of consumer and choice of providers

The RIR found limited information on which groups of consumers go to which type of service provider.

It is reported that “the advice sector provides services for high numbers of clients not fluent in English and also disabled clients and clients with mental health problems. Some clients move house and change their phone numbers frequently1“. However it is unclear whether similar proportions of vulnerable consumers use solicitors.

Research by the Law Society shows that “The vast majority of private practitioners had worked with private individuals who were not legally aided (82%) in the last twelve months and almost two-thirds (64%) had worked for private sector firms or companies. Around one-quarter had worked with legally-aided private individuals2“.

Client type% of private practitioners
Private individuals without legal aid82%
Private sector firms or companies64%
Overseas clients42%
Legally aided private individuals24%
Public sector bodies23%
Other clients (e.g. Charities, trade unions)21%

Do individuals choose a lawyer who reflects a similar background to them?

Different individual consumer groups tend to take a different approach in choosing an adviser. For example:

  • Young people are most likely to turn to informal advisers –friends, parents, youth workers etc and for formal sources, most likely to go to local council and are half as likely as 25+ to go to solicitor/CAB. This is because of a perception that they “will be judged, not get confidential service, not be taken seriously and services seen as ‘not for me’3“.
  • Asian respondents are more likely to contact their council for advice; higher proportion of Black respondents contact ‘other’ sources of advice4.
  • Older people initially rely on their family and friends, community and voluntary networks such as Age Concern are also relied upon5.

Looking specifcially at ethnicity of individual and adviser “An analysis of the client profiles for civil legal aid contractors shows that 38.5% of BME clients chose BME managed suppliers and 51.2% chose white managed suppliers a further 10.3% of BME clients chose firms with split control. Whereas 3.9% of white clients went to BME firms and 92.5% went to white firms and 3.6% to suppliers with split management control. This analysis also shows that of the 165 BME suppliers, 77.2% of clients are BME. Of the 1,368  white managed suppliers 84.2% of clients are white. Of the 67 suppliers with split control the client profile is also split 51% white and 49% BME.6

However, research into criminal legal aid in 2010 found that:

  • When asked what factors were important to them when choosing a solicitor, only seven out of 1,142 respondents referred to ethnicity.
  • When responding to the two open-ended questions regarding the choice and use of a solicitor, only three users in total referred to the importance of language7.

What is the normal ‘service journey’ for individual consumers of legal services?

In 2011 available research suggests that the normal service journey for individual consumers can be descibed as follows:

  • Of people who decide to use a solicitor 27% start with a phone book, 26% start with internet, 49% ask other people for their opinions of different solicitors before employing them. Around a third don’t really look into solicitors’ background at all. This is in part because legal services are commonly accessed at times of stress or trouble.This was considered by stakeholders to make the process of assimilating information and taking decisions more difficult.
  • A number of consumers will be referred by a third party. For example an OFT survey found that around 20% of buyers used a conveyancer recommended by the estate agent, moreover in total 44% of buyers were given a referral.
  • In 2010, 23% of individual consumers found their lawyer through a referral from another organisation. A detailed analysis of intermediaries can be found in the LSCP Referral Arrangements report. This lists introducers as claims management companies, estate agents, panel managers, insurers, banks and mortgage brokers, and Trade Unions. The expectation is that intermediaries will be much wider than this list covering incidence of less formal networks, such as local authorities directing individuals to advice services.
  • When they did need to access legal services, many participants said there had been an absence of choice in legal provider or a dearth of information to support the decision-making process. Due to limited financial resources, time pressures and a desire to remain local, individual and SME business participants felt their choices were restricted. As a consequence, there was a high incidence of participants relying on recommendations from friends, family or business contacts“.

Small business consumers

For small business consumers:

  • Less formal free routes exploited in the first instance for small businesses
  • Formal legal service providers used for routine and reactive advice seen as quick and efficient but expensive and associated with very negative issues.
  • Limited understanding of different types of lawyer
  • Usual route is to use less formal legal service first including friend family peers colleagues, accountants, internet, trade associations legal help lines government departments and CABs.

The most common sources of advice used by small and large business in 2009 are shown in the table below.8

Banks or financial institutions69.70%
Business colleagues68.80%
Government or public agencies51.40%
Friends or family40.40%