Online legal services continue to be increasingly popular with consumers – but not at the expense of face-to-face contact, according to the latest tracker survey.  

The annual snapshot commissioned by the Legal Services Consumer Panel and published today finds that one-third of legal services are now delivered online, up from 21% when the survey started in 2011. 

But the proportion of consumers receiving a face-to-face service has remained broadly stable over the past five years and is currently at 45%. The biggest decline has been in accessing legal services by post, which has declined from 16% in 2012 to 8% in 2019. 

Consumer contentment continues to remain high and even increasing, with 87% of those surveyed saying they were satisfied with the outcome of their legal matter and 84% satisfied with the service they received. Satisfaction is highest among people who use a service for will writing, power of attorney and conveyancing. Consumers who have their service delivered face-to-face, over the phone or via post are more likely to be satisfied with the service they receive than those that receive it online (88% vs 78%). 

But regulators’ attempts to push consumers towards shopping around appear to be stalling. Just 28% did this when choosing their legal services provider, and 62% found out the price through talking to their lawyer rather than from a comparison website or other means.  

The proportion of consumers who say it is easy to make a price comparison dropped from 58% in 2018 to 38% in 2019. 

One of the biggest changes has come in how consumers fund legal services: in 2012, 56% paid for advice themselves or with the help of friends or family. This proportion us now 72%. In contrast fewer consumers pay for legal services through legal aid (3% in 2019, 5% in 2012), through a trade union (1% in 2019, 6% in 2012) or through their employer (1% in 2019, 3% in 2012). 

The unbundling of services – where a package of legal services is split between the consumer and lawyer – has often been cited as a solution to funding gaps. But the use of unbundling has declined from 19% of consumers in 2014 to 14% in 2019. 

Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: ‘I’m pleased to see a consistent uptake of services delivered online and that consumer satisfaction with legal services, including online services, is high.  

‘The uptake of new technology is a real opportunity to mitigate some of the gaps in access to justice caused by the severe decline in public and charitable funding streams. I therefore hope to see regulators proactively promoting innovation, with adequate consumer protection to bolster consumer confidence and consequently the appropriate use of new technology.’

Researchers surveyed more than 3,500 people who had used legal services in the past two years.