Consumers of legal services want more tailored support from the internet as a first point of contact for their legal problems, a report has found.
Research carried out by the Legal Services Board found consumers were often 'swamped' by information online and gave up halfway through their search. The LSB said there was real potential for an official and independent 'legal advice and guidance' site.
Relatively few consumers currently rely on online sources to gain reassurance or information. Those searches that were undertaken often resulted in 'too much information and choice'.
'There was a common view that the law is very precise, can turn on the smallest detail, and therefore the risks involved in trying to build up your own knowledge based on the wild west of the internet was too great,' the report said.
'In comparison, with health issues - another area where consumers regularly rely on expert professional advice - consumers knew you could refer to NHS Direct online, and "it wouldn't lie to you".'
When offered the prospect of an independent website for advice, consumers felt it could offer:
A reliable and trustworthy 'one-stop shop' for information;
Information on which consumers could have more informed conversations with solicitors;
Help with sensitive issues to avoid the need to discuss them in person;
Guidance on how to choose a good solicitor; and
The chance to save money by not approaching solicitors unnecessarily.
The LSB report stated the need for an internet service was more of a priority at a time where funding for legal aid and other support services is being reduced.
But it warned that consumers most in need of legal support and help - the lowest income groups or those facing language barriers - would be less likely to use an online service.
Stakeholders were also supportive of ways to provide more information, and discussions will now be held between the profession and regulators on how to develop and publicise an advice site.