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Consumers ‘lack confidence to complain’ about legal services

Satisfaction among consumers unchanged as a decline in trust for lawyers levels off

9 December 2014

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Satisfaction among consumers unchanged as a decline in trust for lawyers levels off

Consumers are benefiting from the competition reforms introduced by the Legal Services Act, but progress is still less than it should be in several key areas.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel's (LSCP) found positive signs of consumer power driving competition, and many examples of innovation, following the liberalisation measures. However, the LSCP believe members of the public still lack information on lawyers' performance so as to compare options.

Chair of the LSCP, Elisabeth Davies, said: "We're really encouraged that consumers are benefiting from wider choice, shopping around more and report they're getting better value for money than in the past. This shows the competition reforms are already making a positive difference and this is only set to continue.

"However, as we've said repeatedly, consumer power is being held back by a lack of information to compare the performance of law firms. And consumers clearly still lack the confidence to complain - this hasn't got better over the years and we must all redouble our efforts to break down these barriers. More demanding consumers would make for a better legal services market."

The third instalment of the Consumer Impact Report found the technical quality of legal advice remains largely unknown, which represents a major concern. Service satisfaction among consumers (79 per cent) is unchanged and the decline in trust in lawyers has levelled off. The number of allegations about legal competence received by the SRA totalled 2,206 in the last year.

The LSCP say there remains a significant, although slightly narrowing, gaps in trust, confidence and satisfaction with legal services between population groups.

The Panel discovered that though DIY law, unbundling and paralegal businesses are emerging as market solutions to improve affordability, they still require choices which balance access to justice and consumer protection.

One other finding in the report suggested low public confidence about complaining means too many consumers choose to suffer in silence. Forty-four percent of dissatisfied consumers do not complain. However, there are signs lawyers are getting better at handling complaints.

The report also suggests that consumers should be placed at the heart of regulation as, at present, consumer research by approved regulators remains minimal.

Davies continued: "Despite some improvement since our last report, public confidence in the market and the consumer experience of using legal services still varies far too widely depending on social background - poorer consumers trust lawyers less, feel less protected and are less satisfied with the service they receive.

"Improving access to justice is the key challenge facing all of us in legal services and the reforms can't be considered a success if some sections of society are getting left behind."

This article first appeared on PCA's sister publication, Solicitors Journal

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Legal services