Improving access - tackling unmet legal needs

02 June 2017




This paper sets out why access to legal services is a risk and the current barriers that people and small businesses face and highlights actions that firms are taking to improve access.



Executive summary

Legal services can help us at the most important moment in our life - whether buying a house, dealing with an unscrupulous employer, or handling a relationship breakdown. Yet few people and small businesses use a solicitor when they have a legal problem. And the poorest and most vulnerable often have very limited access to legal services.

Such limited access means that many people are not getting the help they need to enforce or defend their rights. This can lead to poor outcomes and hinder the proper administration of justice.

Bodies such as the Legal Services Consumer Panel have undertaken research that shows barriers to accessing legal services include:

  • the affordability of legal services
  • a lack of information to choose and compare legal services providers.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have said that legal services market reform is needed to improve both the affordability of services and the availability of information. They say that this will increase access by helping people choose the best legal support, as well as driving competition, quality and innovation.

We are reforming our regulation to create a more open, modern and competitive legal services sector that works in the best interests of the public.

Law firms are improving access by:

  • Growing and innovating. For example, expanding or adapting their business to reach new clients, setting up as an alternative business structure and using artificial intelligence to offer more efficient services to their clients.
  • Making services more affordable and costs easier to understand. For example, offering unbundled legal services and fixed fees, and offering free and reduced cost services to those most in need.
  • Improving information and standards of service. For example, using plain English with clients and potential clients, engaging with people and businesses online, and using emails and other messaging systems to speed up communications.

Our reforms are improving access by:

  • Simplifying our regulatory rules and standards - getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and creating shorter, clearer principles and codes, reducing cost and complexity for law firms.
  • Supporting firms to provide new services in new ways by removing constraints and helping new thinking though SRA Innovate.
  • Freeing up solicitors to work where they choose, increasing public choice and access to expert services.
  • Supporting consumers by sharing our information to help them make informed choices and increase competition.
  • Reducing the costs of regulation through efficiencies - overhead cost savings that can be passed on by firms to the users of legal services.
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    1. There are a number of approved regulators in the LSA. When referring to LSA-regulated firms, this means those who are authorised to deliver reserved legal activities under the LSA. Both LSA regulated and non-LSA regulated firms can deliver legal activities outside the reserved legal activities. For instance, legal services such as will writing, or advice on employment or immigration law.

    2. The groups that were most likely to experience a high number of legal problems were those with a limiting illness or disability, were unemployed, a lone parent with dependent children, living in a household with an annual income below £15,000 or living in rented accommodation (Findings from the Legal Problem and Resolution Survey, 2014-15; MOJ, 2017).

    3. Mind the gap an assessment of unmet legal need in London: A Survey of MPs’ Surgeries Oct- Nov 2016, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pro Bono and Hogan Lovells, 2017

    4. How people resolve ‘legal’ problems, Legal Services Board, 2014

    5. The financial impact of SMEs' failure to take care of their Legal Business, LawBite, 2017

    6. The legal needs of small businesses, Kingston University for the Legal Services Board, 2015

    7.Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016; Lessons for law firms: The client experience, LawNet, 2015

    8. Legal Services Benchmarking Report, Legal Services Board, 2012

    9.Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016; Usage of legal services remains unchanged, YouGov, 2015

    10. Online survey of individuals' handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015, Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute for The Legal Services Board and the Law Society, 2016

    11. Online survey of individuals' handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015, Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute for The Legal Services Board and the Law Society, 2016; Qualitative Research Exploring Experiences and Perception of Unbundled Legal Services, Legal Services Board, 2015

    12. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    13. Total net programme expenditure (excluding administration costs), October 2015 to September 2016.

    14. How People Resolve ‘Legal’ Problems report to the Legal Services Board, Pleasence, P. and Balmer, N.J., 2014

    15. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    16. There are a number of approved regulators in the LSA. When referring to LSA-regulated firms, this means those who are authorised to deliver reserved legal activities under the LSA. Both LSA regulated and non-LSA regulated firms can deliver legal activities outside the reserved legal activities. For instance, legal services such as will writing, or advice on employment or immigration law.

    17. Mapping potential consumer confusion in a changing legal market, University of Leicester for the Legal Ombudsman, 2011

    18. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    19. English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey: Wave 2, Balmer, N for the Legal Services Commission, 2013; Online survey of individuals' handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015, Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute for The Legal Services Board and the Law Society, 2016

    20. Online survey of individuals' handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015, Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute for The Legal Services Board and the Law Society, 2016

    21. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    22. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    23. Unjust Kingdom: UK Perceptions of the Legal and Justice System, Innovation in Law Report 2015, Hodge, Jones & Allen, 2015

    24. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016

    25. Mind the gap an assessment of unmet legal need in London: A Survey of MPs’ Surgeries Oct- Nov 2016, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pro Bono and Hogan Lovells, 2017

    26. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016

    27. Quality of legal services for Asylum Seekers, SRA, 2016

    28. Lawyers, markets and regulation, Stephen, Frank H., 2013

    29. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    30. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016: 13% chose their provider based on a recommendation from family/friends, 33% because they or a family member had used the provider before and 17% because they were a referral by another organisation (eg, estate agent, insurance company, trade union, or the people that they first approached when they realised they had a problem).

    31. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016

    32. Price comparison websites, UK Regulators Network, 2016; Full disclosure: A round-up of FCA experimental research into giving information, Financial Conduct Authority, 2016

    33. Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the LSB and SRA, 2015

    34. Brave New World, LexisNexis Bellwether Report: 2014, LexisNexis, 2014

    35. Qualitative Research Exploring Experiences and Perception of Unbundled Legal Services, Legal Services Board, 2015; Affordable legal services review, The Law Society, 2015

    36. Here be MONSTERS, Insight: Legal Process Outsourcing, Legal Business, 2014; A perspective on the legal market 2014, Tsolakis, J., The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), 2014; 95 Unbundling a market: The appetite for new legal services models, Allen & Overy, 2014

    37. Experiences of consumers who may be vulnerable in family law, Ecorys for the SRA, 2017

    38. Changes to the separate business rule and to activities with recognised bodies and recognised sole practices Q&A, SRA, 2015

    39. Multidisciplinary practices, SRA, 2015

    40. Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the LSB and SRA, 2015

    41. The riddle of perception, LexisNexis Bellwether Report, 2016

    42. Unbundling a market: The appetite for new legal services models, Allen & Overy, 2014; UK Legal Services Market Report 2015 – Press Release, IRN Research, 2015

    43. Report to Convocation by the Law Society of Upper Canada, 2015. This report included a review of ABS firms in England and Wales.

    44. Report to Convocation by the Law Society of Upper Canada, 2015; Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the SRA and Legal Services Board, 2015

    45. Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the SRA and Legal Services Board, 2015

    46. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016

    47. SRA Code of Conduct, Outcome 1.13 and Indicative Behaviours 1.14 and 1.15

    48. Experiences of consumers who may be vulnerable in family law, Ecorys for the SRA, 2017

    49. Tracker Survey, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016

    50. Unbundle legal services and make them more accessible, Ipsos MORI for the Legal Services Board and Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2015

    51. Unbundle legal services and make them more accessible, Ipsos MORI for the Legal Services Board and Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2015

    52. Unbundle legal services and make them more accessible, Ipsos MORI for the Legal Services Board and Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2015

    53. Qualitative research exploring experiences and perceptions of unbundled legal services, Ipsos MORI, 2015

    54. Family court statistics quarterly England and Wales: Annual 2016, Ministry of Justice, 2017

    55. Standing alone: Going to the family court without a lawyer, Citizens Advice, 2016

    56. Data and decisions: complaints data, Legal Ombudsman, 2016

    57. Client care information, Practice note from the Law Society, 2016; Research into client care letters, Optimisa Research, 2016; Improving accessibility of legal services: lessons from other sectors, Legal Services Board, 2016

    58. Providing services to people who are vulnerable, SRA, 2016

    59. Probate and employment top consumers' online legal needs, Legal Futures, 2015; Potential surge in DIY divorces, YouGov, 2013

    60. Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the LSB and SRA, 2015

    61. SRA Corporate Strategy 2014/15 to 2016/17

    62. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    63. For further information see our SRA Innovate page.

    64. Innovation in legal services, Enterprise Research Centre for the SRA and Legal Services Board, 2015

    65. Assessment of the economic rationale for, and possible impacts of, proposed changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook, Chris Decker for the SRA, 2016

    66. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    67. SRA Discussion paper: Regulatory data and consumer choice in legal services, 2016

    68. Legal services market study: Final report, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016

    69. Our view is that a small firm can be best defined as a sole practitioner or a firm with no more than four partners, members or directors, which has an annual turnover of no more than £400,000.

    * In an earlier version we mentioned third party account reform would be by end of 2018 but we have recently issued new guidance on their use bringing this date forward.