Lack of access to legal services

Why this risk matters

  • Our main purpose is to protect the public and support the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. A lack of access to legal services, particularly for those most in need or vulnerable, is a concern for us. Our report, Improving access: tackling unmet legal needs, discusses this in more detail.
  • Only one in ten people and small businesses take advice from a solicitor or barrister when they have a legal problem.
  • There are many barriers to accessing legal services from a solicitor - the main two are the affordability of the services and the lack of information about prices and quality.

Trends

  • The Legal Services Consumer Panel Tracker Survey 2017 reports that only 27% of people search the market consumers shop around for legal services, and only 4% use quality marks to inform their choice.
  • The cost of legal services is important to two thirds of people choosing their provider.
  • Around half of legal services are now paid for on a fixed fee.
  • Many people want to do part of the legal work themselves and then have a solicitor help on a specific element. This is called an unbundled service and they have been increasingly offered by law firms since 2013.

Actions

  • Firms are innovating to improve access, including partnering with other professionals in an alternative business structures.
  • Our reforms give solicitors and firms more flexibility to meet legal need. For example, solicitors will be able to freely deliver some legal services to the public outside of a regulated firm.
  • SRA Innovate is an initiative available to all existing firms and new entrants. It offers information on the types of innovation taking place in legal services, as well as information on how IT can help law firms. Through SRA Innovate, solicitors and firms can:
    • explore new ways of running their business and introduce original ideas in our Innovation Space
    • join our Innovate virtual reference group to share thoughts about how our regulation affects innovation and growth in legal services
    • attend our Innovate conferences, or one of our regional SRA Innovate events in Newcastle, Cambridge and Bristol this summer
    • let us know of any ideas about where regulation might be a barrier to innovation, as there are things we can do to help, such as applying our waivers policy.
  • We have revised our waivers policy to make it easier for firms to innovate. The new criteria for granting a waiver will be based on whether the application would be consistent with our regulatory objectives, rather than because of exceptional circumstances.
  • Our Better information, more choice consultation proposed that firms should give a range of clear and accessible information to prospective clients. This includes details of prices, services offered and information on client protections.
  • Increasing the availability of information will make the market more transparent. For example, our law firm search tool gives accessible, free data about all firms. The Legal Choices website offers clear information to people who may have a legal problem. We have also set up an Advisory Panel of charities and consumer groups to inform the current improvements to Legal Choices.
  • We published research that found that information about price is an important factor for people choosing a legal provider. And we are conducting more research on how best to give information about regulatory protections, including how the public would interact with an SRA digital badge on firms’ websites.
  • We also published an impact evaluation on key reforms so far. This found that the introduction of alternative business structures, multi-disciplinary practices and reforms to the separate business rule had increased choice and not led to harm or loss for the users of legal services.
  • We are consulting on new insurance arrangements, allowing the minimum cover and its cost, to better match the risks of each business.

Further information

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