Regulation of legal services is not working to promote public trust in the profession as lawyers continue to be perceived as accountable only to themselves, new research has suggested.
Surveys carried out by the Legal Services Board found a perception that legal professionals are not answerable to anyone and consumers are cynical about the chances of making a successful complaint.
There is also low public awareness and visibility of regulatory bodies created by the Legal Services Act to boost consumer protection.
The report, based on two focus groups and in-depth interviews on consumer use of legal services, concluded that consumers were likely to view legal professionals as intimidating and typically described them as 'arrogant, disinterested or unapproachable'.
It added there was a sense that most ordinary consumers would not feel able to bring a case against a lawyer, with their reluctance underpinned by a feeling that no one would be willing to take on the case, the lawyer would find a loophole to escape the complaint and the 'old boys' network' was such that legal professionals would stick together.
Meanwhile, a separate report into understanding decision-making in legal services shows that people make quick, intuitive decisions when it comes to opting for legal support.
While there is a high level of respect for a lawyer's training, knowledge and experience, views are more negative about the transparency of services offered and costs.
In practice though, the behavioural economics research demonstrates that decisions to use or not use legal services are more likely to be taken on instinct and previous personal experience than on detailed analysis.