Clients from minority ethnic groups are less likely to trust their lawyer and less likely to be satisfied with the service they receive, according to a study by the legal consumer watchdog. A tracker survey carried out by the Legal Services Consumer Panel also found members of some groups less likely to make a will than the population as a whole, and says efforts need to be made to encourage people to do so.
The survey, the sixth time the panel has carried out such research, identified fundamental differences in the type of legal problems black and minority ethnic (BME) people might face: they are more likely than white British people to need advice on immigration, benefits or tax credits, employment disputes and housing problems.
These services, the panel said, are linked by there being a lack of choice on provider.
This shortage of choice is in turn having an effect on billing methods available to BME groups and on their overall experience.
BME groups are significantly less likely to return to the same lawyer. Only 58% reported satisfaction with the service they were provided, compared with 73% of white British consumer who say they are satisfied.
The biggest area of law not being accessed by BME groups was in wills and probate. The survey found that fewer than 30% of people from minority groups to have made a will. The proportion is even lower amongst Pakistani and black African communities. Around 42% of white British consumers have made a will.
The panel said: ‘Considering the importance of having a will, particularly as modern life incorporates more complicated family structures, increased home ownership and the need to plan for care in later life as the population ages, it is concerning to see these two communities falling behind in this area.’
Trust in lawyers is lower among BME groups than among white British consumers, with BME groups also less confident their consumer rights will be protected and that their complaint would be handled properly.
The panel noted a ‘persistent gap’ in satisfaction between white British and BME users, although this is in part because BME groups are more likely to have problems in contested areas of law.
The consumer panel said there are several areas where regulators and representative bodies can help BME consumers feel more confident in their lawyer. Its recommendations include research into what drives the differences identified between ethnic groups, and the need for regulators to find a way for consumers to know the quality of service they can expect.
Regulators are also encouraged to work towards price transparency, given the limited availability of fixed fees in the areas of law BME groups are more likely to need.
Community representative bodies are urged to do more to raise awareness about the importance of preparing a will.
The survey was based on two parts: 1,864 adults taken from a nationally representative sample and 1,523 specifically who have used legal services in the last two years.