Efforts to persuade legal services consumers to shop around for their lawyer appear to be making little headway. The Legal Services Consumer Panel today reports that the proportion of consumers comparing legal service providers remains unchanged year-on-year at 27%. This proportion drops even lower in certain areas of law, such as probate (16%) and personal injury (14%).
Efforts have been made in recent months to encourage legal services users to shop around, not least the growth in comparison websites where firms can be assessed on quality and cost.
But the consumer panel says these sites remain ‘largely unused or opaque’, and the need for wider changes, identified by the Competition and Markets Authority back in 2016, is as great as ever.
Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: ‘It remains a concern that seven out of 10 consumers do not shop around in the legal services market. ‘This needs to change if the vision of empowered consumers stimulating competition is to be achieved.’
Regulators, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority, intend to force providers to give details of costs on their websites, and Chambers said these measures will improve transparency across the market. She noted, however, that more needs to be done on quality indicators.
The consumer panel’s annual tracker survey also shows a further decline in the availability of legal aid, with just 2% of respondents saying this funding was an option for them (down from 5% last year).
Consumers who do shop around say they have a wide range of choice when choosing a provider, and satisfaction with legal services and outcomes is at a record high.
Almost nine in 10 legal services consumers were satisfied with the outcome of their matters and 84% were satisfied with their legal service.
The panel also notes that consumer take-up of fixed fees is on the rise, with 52% of people choosing firms offering this arrangement (up from 37% for solicitors last year).
Reputation (78%) continues to be the most important factor when choosing a legal service provider, followed by price (72%) and specialism (70%).