Solicitors have been urged to include key information about costs and estimated time scales in client care letters as well as shorten them and use ‘plain English’ to avoid making clients ‘feel stupid’.
Research into Client Care Letters, published by the Legal Services Consumer Panel today, makes several recommendations to ensure better communication with clients. The Law Society said that solicitors are already under a professional obligation to provide clear information.
Citing feedback from respondents, the consumer panel said its research shows that the letters do not meet the needs of clients with low literacy levels and for whom English is a second language. It cites one as saying that the letters appear to imply ‘they’re [solicitors] trying to make you feel thick.’
Another said: ’It’s all about money. I’m not sure there’s much empathy there or that they’ve got your best interests at heart.’
The research was carried out by Optimisa on behalf of the consumer panel and included group and face-to-face interviews with people who had recently taken legal advice or who planned to.
It was carried out behalf of regulators including the Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Regulation Authority. According to the consumer panel, it will be up to the regulators to take account of these principles to inform their work.
Elisabeth Davies (pictured), chair of the panel, said: ‘Client care letters are mostly ineffective at conveying the information consumers prioritise, such as cost, timescales, and basic client-relation contact details.
‘Worryingly, the research also shows that client care letters do not meet the needs of vulnerable consumers. There is an urgent need for approved regulators to rise to the challenge of supporting providers to deliver improved communication to consumers.’
But Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society, said solicitors are already more likely than other legal advisers to provide information on costs and indicate how long their work would take.
‘Solicitors recognise the importance of ensuring clients have the clearest possible information and solicitors have a professional obligation to provide that information,' he said.
‘The Law Society offers support in this area for our members in its Client Care Information Practice Note, which recommends creating short letters, providing clear information about cost (both at the start of the retainer and throughout), using plain English and highlighting key information. We will continue to develop our support in this important area so that solicitors can provide ever more useful and accessible information to their clients, particularly vulnerable clients.’