What do consumers want from legal services?
A wide range of research has looked at what individual consumers want from legal services. This is best summarised by Consumer Focus1:
- Services that are affordable and easy to access and that are suitable for all parts of society
- A reasonable (though not excessive) range of options in terms of both providers and products, which will meet their own particular needs
- Competition and choice, which in turn drives innovation
- Clear charges with clarity about what is being charged
- Timely and efficient service, with work of an agreed quality
- Effective communication
- Effective redress when things go wrong
Existing services not meeting these needs has been cited as a reason for entry into legal services market: “Following widespread research, members told us that the legal industry communicates poorly, uses too much jargon and they are confused about the pricing of services2“.
Priorities vary by groups of individual consumers, for example:
- Older consumers are put off by legal jargon and uncertainty over costs3.
- Young people want their providers to be confidential, friendly, trustworthy, safe and non-judgemental. Soft skills are considered necessary4.
- 71% of BME people believe it is important for their solicitor to have an office in their local neighbourhood5.
A survey of legal service users6 suggests:
- 74% (8,840,780 people) said the solicitor they visited offered exactly what they were looking for.
- Of the 26% who were not completely satisfied with the service they received:
- 6% thought they could have got the support at a lower cost;
- 8% thought they could have found someone more specialised;
- 2% thought they could have found someone based locally;
- 2% thought they could have found someone they got on better with;
- 5% thought they could have found someone whose professionalism they trusted more;
- 1% said they didn‟t offer legal aid in the category that they were looking for.
How do consumers understand reserved and unreserved activities?
Research undertaken with individual consumers in 2010 found very limited awareness of legal services regulators and the regulatory system: “There is a high level of faith in legal services providers: Expertise, skill and qualification are not questioned; Nature of being a legal services professional means that it would be difficult or impossible to ‘cheat’. Consumers expect all legal services providers be appropriately skilled, qualified and regulated and do not make distinctions between providers on these bases. They are more likely to seek to distinguish between providers on the basis of customer service skills7.
This is supported by the findings of the LSCP consumer research8.
Would consumers buy legal services from a price comparison website?
The RIR found no direct information to answer this question. Research undertaken by the LSCP concluded: “Of less clear-cut interest were consumer review websites or a Scores on the Doors approach (with consumers feeling a sliding scale of 5 stars might be too confusing than a binary ‘competent or not’). Two approaches discussed were seen to be of limited, if any, interest – peer review suffered from a perception that it would work in solicitors’ interests rather than consumers’ and price comparison websites were felt to be less suited to helping quality assessments.9” A range of aggregator sites have been appeared since 2007, but the RIR found limited analysis of this work. One piece of research10 suggests a large range of different types of sites: “While each business or service will differentiate themselves and may mix elements of these categories we have found they tend to fall into the following distinct groups.
- Comparison Sites: compare lawyers against certain criteria including price and provide the user with the results to choose from
- Referral Sites: Limited list of solicitors, enquiries passed to solicitors for a fee or percentage of the billed matter
- Find a Lawyer Sites: large or full list of solicitors that charge a fee for basic or enhanced listings
- Legal Brands: companies that use a brand to promote a network of legal firms and provide them with enquiries
- Legal Information Sites: companies providing some type of information on legal issues and a link to relevant firms of solicitors
- Legal Networking Sites: companies that facilitate solicitors and/or clients to ‘talk’ online or solicitors to talk to each other”
This research also states that approximately 20% of these services launched in the last three years are no longer available.
How do consumers prefer to have legal advice delivered?
Preferences for service delivery vary among different consumer groups :
- Research has found a greater preference for face to face advice for debt problems, social welfare law and those with disabilities: “People with complex problems or people with learning difficulties, language problems or similar difficulties are therefore unlikely to benefit from telephone advice. Likewise, they will be unlikely to benefit from expansion of other new methods of advice delivery, such as those employing personal computer technology.11” The CSJS shows a greater preference for face to face advice, but a growth in the number of people using the internet for the problem types covered in the survey12.
- This compares to areas such as conveyancing: “Solicitors’ practices offer a wide variety of types of conveyancing service. Some provide a bespoke service; others provide a system based service. Some offer a choice of service and of service add-ons such as enabling the consumer to access information by internet or be sent text messages about the progress of their transaction(s) electronically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some offer their clients different levels of service at different levels of costs.13“
One survey14 suggests that a majority of individual consumers expect law firms to offer services on line:
- 47% of consumers would be more likely to choose a law firm that offered the convenience of online access to legal services and documents over one that had no online service capability.
- 56% expected good law firms to give customers the ability to use their services online in the next couple of years
- Consumers see online services as a chance to reduce legal fees.
- 43% agreed they would change law firms if offered a reduced fee in return for the consumer providing initial details about their matter online
- There were no significant differences in attitudes in all age groups, although over 55s were less concerned about online service delivery.
- 50% of men and 45% of women were more likely to choose a law firm which offered online services.
Other research indicates the importance of having a website in individual consumers purchase decision and 57% -agree or completely agree that good law firms should give their customers access to and ability to use their services online - only 8% disagree.15
However, the RIR found limited information on the actual purchase of service online, with consumers using the Internet as an information source. For example in relation to Bar Direct access; “The internet seems to pay an important role in finding out about the scheme. Five responses cited research on the internet, one of them singling out the Bar Council‟s website. One of this four had heard of the scheme from its launch and researched it further on the internet. Clients communicated with their barristers through email (six comments), telephone (six), meetings (four), letters (three) and faxes (one). Six of the eight respondents found this arrangement either satisfactory or good, although one of these described it as “very satisfactory, but not up to my expectations.”
Another report highlights greater use of the internet for pre advice information gathering by trust and estate consumers: “There is a link between how demanding clients are and the amount of information now available online. They come in to your office having done all their work already online, so your knowledge is a given to them. So now they are demanding other things.“
Expectation of online services is thought to be higher among businesses and Government. Research16 suggests there is no relationship between client satisfaction and the firm’s use of IT, but some reports suggests individual consumers satisfaction for telephone legal advice is around 90% - 20% higher than face to face17.