The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) responded to the Legal Services Board (LSB) discussion paper on quality indicators in the legal services market.
Rachel Cairnes, policy and public affairs advisor at ACSO, said: "As the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) stated in its 2016 study of the legal services sector, it is important that consumers of legal services have access to information on price, service and quality before purchase so they can make informed choices. Although notable progress has been made on improving transparency, there is a lack of information on the quality of legal services. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) report, Better information in the legal services market found that 85 per cent of people want such information before choosing a legal services provider. Information provision has a positive effect on consumers and better-informed consumers generally experience better outcomes.
"Consumers often find it difficult to gauge the quality of a legal services provider. There are a number of reasons for this, including that individuals are unlikely to require legal services regularly, meaning they do not have a benchmark against which to judge service. The justice system is complex and difficult to navigate, and consumers may feel there is minimal public or regulatory information to refer to. Furthermore, owing to the reasons for requiring a legal service, consumers may fall into a 'vulnerable' category, which will limit their ability or willingness to make decisions or to represent their own interests. Measures that service to ease the consumer experience, improve their confidence and ensure they are receiving the highest-quality service should be supported.
"Without quality indicators, consumers must continue to rely on such factors as personal recommendations or using the first legal services provider they find (either on the internet or near where they live). However, the indictors must be simple to understand, easy to locate, accessible and capable of straightforward comparison between legal services providers."
Cairnes continued, "A cross-sector, collaborative approach is required to provide consumers (both individuals and small to medium-sized enterprises) with more comparable information on the quality of legal services. This includes determining what information is of the most value to consumers to enable them to make informed decisions before they purchase. As well as the information needed for use by legal service providers as a best practice tool that will improve standards in the sector by focusing on the drivers of customer engagement and satisfaction. This will create the commercial imperative for legal service providers to attract new business by excelling in those selected quality indicators.
"This can be done both directly with individual firms and through representative bodies such as ACSO. Moreover, the LSB should consider what learnings can be taken from quality indicators and transparency measures in other sectors, such as healthcare".
ACSO members can download the full submission from the members' area of the website.