Potential clients now have so many options they can’t possibly know which way to turn.
Put yourself in the shoes of a legal services consumer. Let’s assume you’re entirely clueless about the law (insert your own lord chancellor joke here), haven’t gone to a solicitor before, and your legal problem is causing you distress.
You have the following options: a regulated firm with solicitors, an unregulated firm with solicitors, a regulated solicitor outside of a regulated firm, a regulated alternative business structure staffed by solicitors but owned by non-solicitors, or an unregulated firm with non-solicitors. Have I missed any out here?
Sure, it’s a plethora of choice, but so is a junction with five different routes. It doesn’t mean you’re going to choose the right direction. Especially if you’ve never driven a car before.
Not only that, but each potential road comes with different outcomes if the journey goes wrong: on some you’ll be insured, on others you won’t. Some routes offer compensation if you hit a pothole (some roads will even advertise the complaints hotline) but for others you leave penniless.
This week the SRA confirmed it will sanction solicitors to work on a freelance basis. Clients will have access to the compensation fund but the solicitors won’t have minimum PII cover (they’ll have to flag this up).
How does this possibly make any sense to a client? How will they know what questions to ask and what red flags to look for?
The SRA is to be lauded for its efforts at increasing choice. There is clearly unmet need out there, as members of the public either ignore their legal problem or attempt some DIY.
But we’re in danger of creating so many options, each with their own regulations and protections, that we simply confuse the situation and potentially drive more people away from solving their legal issue.
Even efforts to increase understanding create a new layer of confusion: the SRA now wants to develop its own logo to be issued to all regulated firms. Do you know what we used to have as a de facto logo? A law firm. People understood what a law firm was, and they understood this afforded them certain standards and protections.
Creating something else for the public to understand exemplifies the problem here: in relentless pursuit of choice, we make things ever more complicated. The average consumer must be utterly baffled.