Legal services consumers lack the confidence to complain about poor service and struggle to secure redress even where they have raised an issue, according to the sector's consumer watchdog. The Legal Services Consumer Panel says its latest research showed just 44% of consumers said they were confident about complaining about a lawyer.

Confidence was higher when people complained about a supermarket (70%), banks (55%) and mobile phone companies (49%).

The panel, reporting the figures in its three-year plan published this month, said 49% of dissatisfied legal consumers did not complain. ‘This cannot be acceptable in a market where consumer engagement is important for competition', it states. 'The sector must work harder to find the underlying causes and address them.’

Confidence in the complaints process was brought into focus by further research showing that clients feel vulnerable when using legal services, and that the market was 'inept' at responding to the needs of the most vulnerable clients. According to the report: There appears to be no clear regulatory strategy around how to deliver good outcomes for vulnerable consumers.'

Vulnerable consumers reported difficulties in understanding long and complex client care letters.

The panel also warns that regulatory drives towards a more flexible market should be mindful of the need to balance flexibility against clarity. There was consumer confusion, for example, at what insurance is required by different services providers and whether they would offer access to the compensation fund if something went wrong.

'The panel has found itself increasingly advising on the need to minimise consumer confusion,' says the report. 'We remain concerned that regulators across the sector are not paying enough attention to fragmentation.'

The panel was created following the Legal Services Act and consists of eight lay people from a range of backgrounds.