Consumer watchdogs say clients are relying too heavily on a lawyer’s experience and history when choosing who will represent them, rather than the quality of the service they will receive.

A new report from the Legal Services Consumer Panel states that, whilst knowledge and longevity are currently used as quality indicators, they do not help people assess the technical quality of service provided.

The panel said consumers lack a single objective source of information on quality, with few referring to reviews and testimonials to compare providers, and most relying on word of mouth.

Many of the conclusions of this latest report echo those of similar assessments in recent years. While the message remains the same about consumers lacking information to make a choice, there appears to be little happening to change this perception.

The report concludes: ‘Often, consumers rely on quality ‘markers’ as a proxy for quality of service and advice, rather than more concrete measures. There is no objective source on quality available at present to help consumer confidently make their selection, but there is appetite for access to impartial information in future.’

The findings come from YouGov Qualitative research, commissioned by the panel, involving three 90-minute online focus groups with clients who either had or had not shopped around for legal services.

Most agreed that time and effort was required in the early stages to choose a lawyer, and that web searches, word of mouth recommendations and telephone chats helped them create a shortlist of options.

Some talked of the importance of ‘gut feel’ when selecting a provider, while others stressed the importance of a professional-looking website, provider credentials and the empathy and engagement of staff within law firms.

The panel wants regulators to begin to build a common quality indicator framework and mechanism to ensure it is applied across the sector. Its chair Sarah Chambers said the Competition and Markets Authority, which is due to reassess the legal sector at the end of this year, will expect progress to have been made in this area.

She added: ‘If they find that little to no progress has been made on this issue, this could create a reputational risk for regulators as it might suggest that consumers are not at the heart of regulation. And of course, consumers will continue to be left without the basic information they need to choose a lawyer.’