Consumers and referral payments
4 December 2007
Most consumers are unaware of the practice of referral arrangements, under which solicitors pay to obtain clients or cases, and few understand what the payments are about, according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The findings of an omnibus survey of nearly 1,000 people and focus group sessions found a mixed picture of perceptions with a low level of awareness, even among those who had been involved in referrals.
The SRA undertook the research as part of a wider survey of consumer attitudes toward provision of legal services.
According to the survey, nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) were not aware of referral arrangements, and 68 per cent didn't understand the process. This lack of understanding led to some concerns among consumers:
- Forty per cent of consumers were concerned about independence of solicitor's advice if they knew a referral had been paid.
- Thirty-seven per cent were concerned about quality of service.
However, 56 per cent said that they wouldn't object as long as they knew a fee had been paid to get their case details, and 56 per cent would not be concerned as long as it didn't cost them any extra.
Once the practice had been explained to the focus groups and there was a better understanding, consumers broadly felt referrals were alright-as long as fees were disclosed and the independence of advice was not compromised. Some felt there could be consumer benefits:
- It could be easier to be given a solicitor than have to find one.
- It could be quicker, because the two parties work together.
- It creates a third party to complain to if things go wrong with the solicitor.
The SRA commissioned an omnibus survey of almost 1,000 adults in England and Wales, which was followed by a series of focus groups with people who had used the services of a solicitor in the past five years.
Download Consumer engagement in the solicitor services sector: Executive summary.
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