June 2015, Issue 11

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  Consumer Brief

  The Legal Services Consumer Panel Newsletter

Chair’s corner

elisabeth_davies.jpgThe start of a new planning year is always a chance to both reflect on the past and plan for the future and that's precisely what the Panel has been doing. And two recent reports - one looking back over the past 5 years to judge the impact of the reforms, the other looking forward five years asking how legal regulators should prepare for the future - mean we are ideally placed to develop a package of work that addresses the key areas of consumer concern.

You can read more about both reports in this newsletter. And you can see how both of these reports have influenced our new strategy for 2015-18: ‘Challenge and Change’.  Our primary and overarching aim will be extending access to justice, the central challenge facing the sector.  And it will be supported by three secondary aims – improving the regulatory and complaints system; equipping consumers with the information and tools they need to choose and use legal services effectively; and ensuring unregulated providers raise standards and offer access to redress.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your continued interest in this newsletter (now in its 11th edition).  If you’re interested in finding out more about any aspect of our work then please get in touch.

Panel update

New strategy and work programme

In March the Panel published a new three-year strategy alongside our work programme for 2015-16. The Panel has five new strategic aims:

·         Extending access to justice to those who currently cannot obtain the services they need to resolve legal problems or are poorly served by the market

·         Improving the regulatory and complaints system so that it adequately protects consumers and keeps pace with changing market risks

·         Equipping consumers with the information and tools they need to choose and use legal services effectively

·         Ensuring unregulated providers raise standards and offer access to redress

·         Securing legislative reforms to modernise the wider regulatory framework

Highlights from our new work programme include:

·         Identifying what kind of information regulators could collect from firms to aid consumer choice

·         Conducting joint research with the Legal Ombudsman on perceptions of fairness of its decisions

·         Seeking funding for a study on good practice by consumer redress schemes in using complaints data to raise standards in the market

·         Exploring the feasibility of conducting the first ever quantitative survey on litigants in person

·         Continuing to push the Legal Ombudsman to establish a voluntary scheme and accept third party complaints in certain circumstances

You can view the new strategy and work programme here.

Use of the Defamation Act to stifle consumer reviews

In February Panel member Michelle Goddard blogged on the issue of how the Defamation Act 2013 can be used to muffle consumer reviews about lawyers. Michelle pointed out that although consumers may not always be able to judge the technical quality of work, they are quite able to judge whether or not they have received a good service and they often comment on aspects such as whether they have been kept updated or had to chase progress. This provides useful feedback for other potential users and timely feedback to lawyers. Making threats of defamation actions to ensure negative feedback is removed from websites is poor practice and the value of consumer feedback needs to be embraced so that improvements can be made.

At the same time we also responded to a CMA call for evidence on online reviews and endorsements, highlighting the problem. You can read our response to the CMA  here.

There is an issue here around consumer protection and how lawyers react to and handle complaints, and this is a topic we may want to revisit in future.

Unbundling

Our joint qualitative research study with the Legal Services on unbundled service delivery is going well. Ipsos MORI have been contracted to carry out interviews with consumers, providers and the judiciary. This is particularly timely given the rise in litigants in person and the Law Society recently updating its practice note for solicitors. We expect to publish the research report this Summer.

Research and publications

Comparing methods of service delivery: A case study on divorce

In March we published research comparing the consumer experience of online divorce with more traditional services.  This project was jointly commissioned with the LSB. Some of the findings from this research include:

·         The market is working well: there are high levels of customer satisfaction for both traditional providers (79%) and online providers (83%)

·         Consumers are making choices to reflect their needs: those using online divorce services tend to have more amicable (86%) divorces compared to those using a traditional lawyer (56%) 

·         Online divorce services are reported to be significantly cheaper and more likely to be quoted on a fixed fee basis.  By contrast those choosing face to face providers tend to value the reputation of the provider and its location more so than cost, and

·         The online experience has some differences.  For example, online applicants go through the process faster than those seeking face to face advice (on average 83% within eight weeks) and more users of online services than traditional services felt that the process was easier than they anticipated and involved less effort.    

More information about the project can be found here.

Looking ahead

In the months ahead we will focus on our new strategy and work programme, including starting work on our new LSB commissions:

·         Which areas of law should be priorities for the LSB’s work on enabling the demand for legal services to be met

·         What kind of information regulators could collect from firms to aid consumer choice

We will also be publishing the fifth run of our annual tracker survey, which will give fresh insight on the progress of the reforms. And, as outlined above, the unbundling research will come to fruition.

Panel activities round up

Consultation responses

·         In February Panel member Frances Harrison delivered training to staff at the Solicitors Regulation Authority on our two guides on the consumer principles and on consumer vulnerability  

·         In January Catherine Wolthuizen attended an event hosted by the Legal Ombudsman to inform their new strategy  

·         In December Panel member Cathy Gallagher met with APIL to discuss and share good practices for accreditation schemes in the legal services sector

·         In May Panel member Marlene Winfield spoke at the biennial Ombudsman Association conference on ‘navigating the maze’, look at signposting consumer redress

 

We respond to a number of external consultations each year, in which we seek to represent the interests of users of legal services. All our responses are published here on our website.

 

Since October we have responded to the following:

                                                                                         

·         SRA, Improving regulation: proportionate and targeted measures, June 2015

·         LSB, In-house Lawyers, April 2015

·         CLC, Compensation fund operating framework, March 2015

·         CMA, Call for information on online reviews and endorsements, March 2015

·         QC Appointments, Eligibility for appointment as QC, March 2015

·         Legal Ombudsman, Draft Strategy and Budget 2015-17, February 2015

·         CPS, Speaking to witnesses at court, February 2015

·         SRA, Separate Business Rule, February 2015

Please get in touch / comments and ideas

Our role is to provide independent advice to the Legal Services Board about the interests of users of legal services. We do this by investigating issues that affect consumers and by seeking to influence decisions about how lawyers are regulated. We want to hear what you think about our work so if you have any comments or questions please contact Contact@legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk. You can also visit our website at http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/index.html.

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