Consumers think solicitors are under-regulated
04 December 2007
Consumers think solicitors are not properly regulated and don't know where to turn when things go wrong. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has undertaken research on consumer attitudes, using both an omnibus survey and focus groups with users of legal services. The research concentrated on conduct, complaints and satisfaction levels.
SRA Chair Peter Williamson said: "There is a perception that solicitors aren't regulated as much as other sectors. Consumers find it hard to tell if they are getting good service and feel there are significant barriers that get in the way of them taking action when they have concerns."
"While the majority of people were satisfied with the service they received, other consumers felt let down in a number of respects. They don't feel in control of the relationship with their solicitor."
Main sources of complaint
Consumers felt alienated by the use of jargon, were confused by the volume of paper that they were asked to deal with by solicitors, and felt frustration and a loss of control from not being kept up to date on progress.
There was a strong sense of dissatisfaction about the level of fees charged by solicitors, exacerbated by the fact that consumers felt there was a lack of transparency around charging structures and no cap on overall costs. These concerns fed into a general feeling that solicitors had incentives to delay cases unnecessarily.
Linked to cost concerns was a suspicion among consumers that cases were unnecessarily delayed in order to increase solicitors' fees. There was also concern that there was very little transparency about the length of time that a case was likely to take and a general sense that simple tasks took too long to perform.
The focus group research highlighted a broader sense among consumers that solicitors failed to deliver sufficient support and personalised service to their clients. This issue was accentuated by the fact that consumers often engaged solicitors at times of vulnerability and stress. Consumers expressed a strong view that clients must be given information about any referral arrangements and fees.
Overall, the research showed a perception among consumers that the legal profession is under-regulated, along with limited awareness of the existence and respective roles of the SRA and the Legal Complaints Service. While there was some awareness of the Law Society as a body responsible for solicitors, consumers indicated they felt that this was a body that represented the interests of lawyers and, as such, was unlikely to give any complaint a fair hearing.
Peter Williamson said: "This has highlighted a number of areas for us as a new independent regulator. There is a need for consumers to have a clear understanding of the standards they should expect from solicitors who are regulated by a code of conduct. Solicitors may need more advice on how to give good information to clients and so avoid complaints. We will be working with other regulators to learn from their experiences of engaging with consumers and look at how best to get these messages across."
You can download an executive summary of a report on the research below.