Wednesday 25 July 2012 by John Hyde
Legal services consumers are becoming less confident about protection of their rights as the market liberalises, research has found.
The second consumer 'healthcheck' released by the Legal Services Consumer Panel yesterday identified declining public trust in lawyers, though it pointed out that this is true of professions generally. Although more consumers are shopping around and benefiting from fixed fees than ever before, a rising number felt prices had become less transparent during 2011/12.
The panel, which based its research on surveys and information from the Legal Ombudsman, wants regulators to focus on trust and complaints-handling during the coming year.
Elisabeth Davies (pictured), chair of the panel, said: 'Consumers are slowly starting to vote with their feet when choosing legal services, but unclear pricing and a lack of confidence continues to hold them back.'
The Legal Services Act 2007 was intended to liberalise the market while bolstering client confidence, but research collated by the panel found that wide variations remain in people's experience of services.
In particular, lower socio-economic groups are less trusting, less confident, shop around less and are less satisfied, the healthcheck found.
Just 43% of the public said they trusted lawyers, falling to less than 40% among members of BME groups, although it was accepted there was a mismatch between perceptions of lawyers as a profession and individuals' own experience.
The panel wants regulators to improve their diversity at senior levels and develop a better understanding of vulnerable consumers.