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Consumer confidence in lawyers holding steady

Yet almost half of the public do not complain about receiving poor quality legal services

4 June 2014

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New research released by the Legal Services Consumer Panel states that 44 per cent of consumers fail to complain when dissatisfied with their solicitor. This is compared to an average of 27 per cent of disgruntled customers in other areas of the services sector. These results suggest that there are more barriers present when complaining to law firms than for other businesses.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: "Every time someone feels powerless to complain about a lawyer, confidence in legal services is dented and law firms miss an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, innovate and improve the service they offer. The Legal Services Board has challenged the approved regulators to do much better on first-tier complaints-handling - our data suggests they must work even harder than their counterparts in other sectors to break down barriers to complaining."

The Panel's latest annual tracker survey results show that overall service satisfaction has remained steady during the last four years - currently holding firm at 79 per cent. Will-writing is the highest rated market for satisfaction with outcome, service and value for money. Although as recently reported by SJ, consumers are perhaps not in the best position to assess the technical quality of work after research showed that nearly 25 per cent of wills drafted by solicitors failed to achieve the desired quality expected by clients.

The results also highlight a social divide in regards to satisfaction. The middle classes - and white British consumers in general - are more likely to trust lawyers, have more confidence in the market and are happier with the service they received compared to their working class counterparts.

"We hope public trust and confidence in legal services has now bottomed out, but this news doesn't mask what is far from an ideal state of affairs," said Davies. "Research has shown the link between customer service failings and low trust in lawyers - a relentless focus on transparency and good service would help to rebuild confidence in the sector and encourage more people to use legal services."

The Panel also released a paper on differences between consumers in England and Wales which shows that consumers in Wales are more trusting of lawyers, have greater confidence their rights will be protected and are more satisfied with the service received. However, it also suggests consumers in Wales shop around less than those in England. Consumers who do shop around were more satisfied with their service than those who didn't or who were dissatisfied with the choices available.

"Our survey data suggests consumers are benefiting from the competition reforms - but we need to avoid a situation where only already empowered consumers benefit while the vulnerable are left behind. Access to justice objectives will not be achieved if inequalities of trust and experience persist - this is a key challenge for everyone in the sector to grasp in the years ahead," said Davies.

Other key findings in the report include the news that 43 per cent of the public trusts lawyers to tell the truth (up from 42 per cent from 2013 but still down from 47 per cent in 2011). 46 per cent of the public feel their consumer rights would be protected when using lawyers (the same as 2013 but down from 51 per cent in 2011). And public awareness of the Legal Ombudsman has actually fallen over the last four years from 65 per cent in 2011 to 59 per cent in 2014.