There’s nothing wrong with shopping around, but those pushing the low-cost agenda are short-changing consumers.
For an organisation that stresses about not just focusing on cost, the Legal Services Board doesn’t half bang on about costs a lot.
Regulators seem obsessed with encouraging clients to be penny-pinching bargain-sniffers, tapping their back pocket after writing a will like they’ve just secured a two-for-one deal on a Müller Fruit Corner.
This week's research, published by the LSB, actually amounts to a hefty 76-page document which takes a nuanced and wide-ranging look at the factors influencing why someone chooses a legal provider.
Yet the headline conclusion is that people should be shopping around nationally for the ‘best deals’ on divorce, wills and conveyancing. The LSB found – and you may want to sit down for this revelation – that legal services are more expensive in London than the rest of the country. And that Wales and the north are considerably cheaper on average than other regions.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with seeking out the most cost-effective solution to your legal need. And that should involve seeing whether a firm at the other end of the country can do the same job for less.
But this constant focus on price and securing the ‘best deal’ is sending consumers down a blind alley and putting them at the mercy of providers they can neither meet nor scrutinise. The LSB would no doubt deny this, but they are lining up people for a race to the bottom and firing the starting gun.
My advice, based on personal experience, would be to more or less ignore the LSB’s guidance. I have used conveyancing services twice: once a cheaper option by a provider at the other end of the country, and the other a more expensive service by the firm at the end of the road.
The first was a mess, with corners cut, constant delays and an automated voice at the other end of the line. The second was a breeze, with a solicitor aware of our personal needs, happy to meet in person and taking care to check every detail. They also understood the location we were buying in and were able to give tailored advice about the area.
Not every cheap provider will provide a worse service, but often there is a reason why they are cheaper: less qualified staff (fewer staff overall, in fact) and an impersonal service are by-products of cut-price lawyers. The least the LSB can do is point this out.
There is something troubling about the regulators urging consumers to find the ‘best deals’ on legal services such as divorce, wills and conveyancing. This isn’t the proverbial tin of beans. By all means encourage people to shop around, but there’s a reason why word of mouth remains the most common way of finding a lawyer: it’s really the most reliable way.