The largest ever survey of legal needs in England and Wales has found that only one-third of people who had experienced a legal issue sought formal legal advice on dealing with it.
More than 8,000 people gave information about 16,694 separate legal issues for the Ipsos MORI survey conducted for the Law Society and Legal Services Board.
The findings, published today, show that formal legal advice was obtained for less than a third of issues. In a further 5% of cases, respondents said they tried, but failed, to obtain advice.
Nearly half of all issues were handled by respondents themselves or with help from friends and family. Almost one in 10 were handled alone for ‘fear that doing otherwise would cost too much – either the cost of an adviser’s service or the cost of court fees’.
The need for a solicitor’s help was most often mentioned in relation to divorce, conveyancing, probate and wills. Awareness that solicitors could help was less likely to be cited as a reason in mental health and neighbour issues.
Meanwhile, respondents for less than half of issues checked whether their main adviser was regulated. Those aged 55 or over were more likely to check, the report states.
Of those who did not check, more than half assumed the adviser was regulated. In 8% of issues the respondent did not know what regulation meant; a further 8% said they did not know how to find information about regulation.
Commenting on the findings, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers (pictured) said protection and redress for those accessing legal services ‘is not even’.
He added: ‘The most trained and qualified providers are the most regulated while those who may have no formal legal training may be unregulated. This can be confusing and can result in people not making informed decisions about the legal services they buy.’
Meanwhile, analysis suggests those under the age of 35 and students are particularly less likely to obtain advice or assistance.
Seven in 10 young people (aged between 11 and 15) surveyed stated they had experienced one or more legal issues listed in the survey. These include: buying something that turned out not to work properly; being bullied at school or online; being in trouble because of something posted on social media; and being involved in disagreements over contact with a family member that involved solicitors, social workers or the courts.
More than two-thirds of youngsters said they felt comfortable seeking help from a teacher for a legal need. Less than a third (32%) said they would feel comfortable accessing legal help from the police. The figure was even lower for a solicitor (27%).
LSB chair Sir Michael Pitt said the ‘wealth’ of information contained in the ‘extensive and robust’ survey would be made freely available on the board and Society's websites.
Pitt said: ‘We hope that anyone with an interest in legal services will use it to help inform policy development going forward, and help us all contribute to a legal services market that delivers better outcomes.’