Notes on the Westminster Legal Policy Forum keynote seminar – 25th February 2020

This ICLR special report has been compiled to give members a flavour of what was discussed during the annual Westminster Legal Policy Forum, held on the 25th February 2020. The theme of the day was ‘regulation, consumer protection and responding to innovation’, with speakers drawn from across regulators, representative bodies, academia and the legal services sector from across England and Wales. Further information about upcoming Westminster Legal Policy forum events, as well as publications from the forum, are available here.

The Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation – key issues to be addressed

Professor Stephen Mayson, Centre for Ethics and Law, University College London and Lead, Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation

The day began with a keynote speech by Professor Stephen Mayson outlining the progress of his hotly anticipated recommendations on legal services regulation. Professor Mayson took the opportunity to address some of the key issues that had arisen during the course of his research. Professor Mayson stressed that his report was written with the consumer as the primary concern, saying that given the scale of unmet legal need across England and Wales, it had become increasingly clear, both that the changes he will propose will be too radical to be achieved within the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) and that he increasingly views reform as something that will need to take place sooner rather than later.

Professor Mayson raised four key issues that he has identified under the current regime:

  1.  The vulnerable – Professor Mayson highlighted the vast level of unmet legal need in the country, saying that the law is too complex and too important for the level of access available. Professor Mayson also criticised the “unprincipled” nature dichotomy of high barriers to entry to deliver reserved legal activities, which are treated as essential until a consumer can no longer afford them, at which point the consumer becomes able to self represent.
  2. The dabblers – Professor Mayson also criticised the narrow entry gate to the profession, which allows a wide range of practice. He highlighted the fact that the simultaneous licensing of title and activity allows legal practitioners to hold themselves out as capable of delivering in areas in which they have limited or no competence and experience, leading to a lack of credibility.
  3. Buridan’s ass – Professor Mayson discussed the philosophical concept of Buridan’s ass, in which a donkey placed equidistantly between two piles of food is unable to make a decision as to which one to move towards and starves. He compared this to regulatory reform, suggesting that unless a decision was made on either moving towards risk-based regulation, or some kind of reworking of the existing system then reform would become paralysed by a lack of choice.
  4. The Gordian Knot – Professor Mayson highlighted that his report will raise many questions as to what an independent regulatory system should look like, however, he highlighted that the current system creates the artifice of the approved regulator, which holds an unclear position between being a profession focused representative body and publicly focused regulator. Professor Mayson suggested that the time has come to sever the Gordian knot between the regulatory body and approved regulator.

The full text of Professor Mayson’s speech is available here, with further information about the independent review of legal services available here.

The future of legal services – technology adoption, the changing shape of professional services firms and regulatory development

A lively panel discussion followed the keynotes speech, with panellists providing analysis on what they saw as key issues in the regulation of legal services

Neil Rose, Founder and Editor, Legal Futures – Mr Rose discussed some of the need for reform, pointing out that whilst the current system works well for some, there remain an awful lot of people for whom it doesn’t. Neil pointed out that the attitude in the sector still gravitates towards “we do things this way because this is how it’s always been done”. He raised the idea that the LSA has acted as a catalyst in allowing new businesses to come in and disrupt the sector, pointing out that concerns over compromised standards have not been fulfilled. Neil also pointed towards the new Solicitors qualifying exam suggesting that it could lead to seismic changes in the profession. He also pointed towards further reforms as creating the opportunity for the sector to further grow and develop.

John Gould, Senior Partner, Russell-Cooke; Author, The Law of Legal Services and Member, Advisory Panel, Independent Review of Legal Services – Mr Gould began by asking if there is really a need and an appetite for change. He then went on to describe how the current system has become something of a “lottery winners bungalow”, with many developments and aspirational additions tacked on, with no coherent whole. Mr Gould suggested that this has created a system where compliance officers have become a necessity as a go-between between lawyers and regulators, with the public completely excluded, with no clarity as to how the system works. He suggested that a clearer and more understandable system must be developed with the relationship between activity and title being clearly defined, to create a system that can function for the public, practitioners and regulators.

Duncan Wiggetts, Executive Director, Professional Standards, ICAEW – Mr Wiggets discussed how the distinction between lawyers and non-lawyers has become increasingly blurred. He suggested that for consumers of legal services costs had become a key factor in how purchasing decisions are made, leading to a convergence between accountants, lawyers and other business advisors. Mr Wiggets pointed towards the Brydon and Kingman reviews into audit and financial reporting, suggesting that these could inform the ongoing work of the Mayson review. He suggested that both these reports pointed towards the primacy of public interest and the need for risk-based regulation.

Kirsteen Forisky, Head of Innovations, LEAP Legal Software – Ms Forisky pointed out that changes in the legal environment have fundamentally altered legal service delivery. She pointed out that to remain competitive firms must begin to use technology, particularly cloud-based software, in order to improve their efficiency and information-sharing capabilities. She pointed out that this will enable firms to work in an agile way, meeting client demands in today’s business environment, allowing them to offer an enhanced client experience, without creating added pressures and costs on employees.

Derek Sweeting QC, Vice-Chair, Bar Council – Mr Sweeting discussed the risks present in opening up the profession. He cited current concerns over unregulated legal providers, raising the example of Paul Wright v Troy Lucas & George Rusz, citing the danger of unregulated provision. Mr Sweeting suggested that consumers prefer to rely on named professionals, who they can trust and rely on to provide quality services. Mr Sweeting suggested that the growing number of solicitors entering into the profession combined with increased public legal knowledge would meet the unmet legal need gap in a way that allowed people to place trust in the legal sector.

Chair’s closing remarks

Lord Gold

Based on the discussion throughout the morning Lord Gold took the opportunity to urge the Ministry of Justice to take action on simplifying the regulatory regime, highlighting the fact that unless there is political action, the profession will continue to debate and delay ad infinitum. The Conservative peer raised concerns over regulators ability to respond to technology and other challenges and said: “If you leave it to the brilliant lawyers we have in this country, they will obfuscate and delay and it will never happen … Now is the time for the MoJ to rip this up and decide what exact regulatory regime we need for the future.”

The state of the market – transparency, consumer engagement and reflections on the 2016 Market Study

Chris Jenkins, Economics Director, Competition and Markets Authority – Mr Jenkins gave his thoughts on the progress that had been made since the release of the CMA’s hugely influential 2016 study on the legal services market. He pointed out that in the initial study there had been a pledge to review the progress approximately every three years, and told the event that a review was planned for the second half of 2020. Taking a broad view Mr Jenkins suggested that tackling the issue of public ability to asses price and quality had not been fully addressed and that more work was needed on the issue to improve consumer ability to make purchasing decisions. He called for regulators to push forward on improving standards of transparency, making it easier to compare services and providers. He did point out however that there had been greater progress in implementing changes improving independence and regulatory transparency which had been a positive move, although he suggested that there was still more work needed in improving consumer redress.

The focus on consumers – public confidence, competition and managing ‘unmet legal need’

Simon Davis, President, The Law Society – Mr Davis discussed the findings of the recently published legal needs survey, which was produced by the law society in partnership with the LSB and YouGov. Mr Davis pointed out that the results of the survey suggested that when people did purchase legal services from a solicitor the vast majority were satisfied with the service and outcome. He pointed out that many consumers were unsure if their problem constituted a legal problem and therefore failed to seek advice. He suggested, therefore, that the solution in tackling unmet legal need was improving legal aid provision and increasing public legal education, to help consumers identify when they had a legal issue.

Dr Ashwini Natraj, Senior Economic Consultant, Consumer and Behavioural Economics Team, London Economics – Dr Nataraj outlined the work that London Economics has been doing on the relationship between behavioural economics and public engagement with the legal sector. She discussed some of the ongoing issues that exist in public decision making around legal services, highlighting problems such as the complexity of the market, stress purchasing, information asymmetry, and the infrequency of purchasing. She pointed out that this has led to low awareness of consumer protections, low confidence in the sector, particularly amongst vulnerable groups and difficulty balancing price and quality. She suggested that behavioural economics approaches could be used to improve engagement and understanding of legal regulation, particularly as there was a difficult balance between providing enough information to give consumers clarity, which has to be balanced against overwhelming consumers with a vast weight of information.

Mariette Hughes, Head Ombudsman, Legal Ombudsman – Ms Hughes discussed the role of the Legal Ombudsman in improving public confidence in legal services. She pointed out that as the last resort and last port of call the ombudsman is often the key touchpoint in maintaining public confidence amongst the most vulnerable and most challenging cases. However, she pointed out that there was still a presumption that the ombudsman would be able to provide consistent supply and quality, raising questions over the resources available to the ombudsman. She also pointed out whilst having a single ombudsman for the whole sector helps to improve confidence, there is also the risk that a single ombudsman can not leave some gaps, which must be met by specialised regulators to avoid damaging public confidence.

Rob Houghton, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, really moving and The Law Superstore – Mr Houghton discussed the role of price and quality comparison sites in providing consumers with resources to better understand the legal market. He pointed out that having resources to compare prices allows for greater influence of natural market forces over an opaque marketplace. He suggested that having greater price and quality competition could only stand to benefit consumers, as it would increase the information available whilst also pushing providers to improve the value proposition of their services, effectively creating a new way to sell their services on value and quality, allowing them to compete with larger organisations.

Julia Salasky, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Legl – Ms Salasky discussed the role that technology can play in addressing consumer side challenges. She suggested that as expectations of a certain level of consumer experience increase, failing to meet this expectation reflects increasingly negatively on the profession.  She suggested that technology could provide an incredible opportunity for the industry to improve communication around value and transparency of products, which could go on to inherently improve public confidence in their legal purchases, and therefore public confidence in the law as a whole.

Regulation in the legal services market – structures, roles and independence

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive, Legal Services Board (LSB) – Mr Hill raised concerns over the fact that unmet legal need was still a major problem and that the legal market was not working for a significant proportion of the population and economy. He compared the current regulatory system to a chair with two legs, saying “You can sit on it perfectly comfortably provided a lot of people spend a lot of time holding it steady for you. We do spend a lot of time making independence work by investing time and effort in it.” Suggesting that the current system can be made to work and that further change can be wrung out of it, however, to truly create an impact there must be a wholesale change in legal regulation. He said “The existing system is undoubtedly complex. It’s built around professions and not consumers. For example, reserved legal activities and title-focused regulators make sense to regulators and sectors, but not necessarily to the public.” He suggested that whilst public legal education played a valuable role, it clearly had not significantly shifted public views on the sector and was sometimes used as a way of blaming the public rather than taking responsibility for change. He ultimately suggested that reform would have to come about at some point and should be built around meeting consumer needs first. Mr Hill also questioned whether, given the scale of some regulatory bodies, they were all fully able to deliver public outcomes.

Ewen Macleod, Director of Strategy and Policy, Bar Standards Board  (BSB) –  Mr Macleod agreed that change was needed to improve public confidence. He suggested that the greatest risk to consumers came about during the initial advice to consumers. He, therefore, suggested that the answer did not lie in creating further barriers, and instead lay in working to improve reputational issues. He said that through broadening the scope of after the event regulation, increasing access to the Legal Ombudsman and improving public information over how to access legal services, public confidence could be improved. He suggested that the board supported a greater focus on risk-based approaches, but that a title was necessary to provide clarity during purchase, suggesting that there is an issue over how risk-based approaches can map onto the public consciousness of existing titles and recognition. Mr Macleod also suggested that the BSB needs to be ready to respond to new developments in legal technology, in order to meet public expectation on the issue.

Chris Handford, Director of Regulatory Policy, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Mr Handford explained that given the fact that as of yet there have not been changes announced in the regulatory regime, therefore the SRA would continue to reform within the boundaries of the existing framework, stressing that the SRA was limited by decisions made at a government level and within the LSB, and within the confines of the LSA. He put forward several reforms that had been put implemented by the SRA, including rewriting solicitors standards to become more principles focused; work to increase trust and consistency, including exploring better quality indicators and ongoing competence; he talked about legal technology suggesting that there is significant potential in the area to improve access to justice, however, also flagging that the SRA must be alive to the potential risks technology could create. Mr Handford suggested that the direction of travel in the profession was towards increasingly blurred boundaries, with a lot of change coming, pointing out that regulators must be ready to embrace and act on this change in order to manage it and effectively fulfil their function.

Stuart Dalton, Director of Policy and Enforcement, CILEx Regulation (CRL) – Mr Dalton began by advocating strongly for the reforms being suggested by Stephen Mayson, suggesting that CRL could be ready to address much of the regulatory void that the report had identified, particularly around tech, helping to address much of the identified need, suggesting that under its current position CRL is already well equipped to deliver regulation around specific activities, given its current structure in regulation across the legal sector. Mr Dalton also took the opportunity to highlight CRL and CILEx’s strong commitment to regulatory independence. Emphasising that CRL has committed to achieving the highest possible degree of independence from CILEx as is possible under current statutory limits. He suggested that in the future regulatory independence, with a public focus would become the norm in legal regulation and that CRL would be leading the way towards this change.

Chair’s closing remarks

Rt Hon the Lord Falconer of Thoroton – Lord Falconer, the architect of the LSA gave his thoughts on the proceedings saying it was “apparent that the legal services market is not servicing the whole market properly and that market forces will not solve that problem”. He said that clearly the solutions had to come from a combination of regulators and public funding, pointing out that government buy-in is necessary to implement and initiate genuine change. The peer gave a nod to discussions about the complexity of the regime, as well as the growing role of technology, saying: “I am sure that there are things that could be done to improve the structure, but I believe that the structure is sufficiently flexible for the regulatory issues to be met. I am not that persuaded that a fundamental shift in the legislative structure is a good idea… but I do think one of the big problems is the failure of the state to provide sufficient legal aid and other forms of funding for advice that the market would not otherwise provide.”

0
post

Solicitors Regulation Authority publishes Residential Conveyancing thematic review

A review about the service provided by solicitors to the public

Executive summary

Buying and selling a property is often the most expensive and important financial commitment a person makes in their life. Having access to reliable and good quality legal support really matters. It not only reduces stress and uncertainty, but potentially directly impacts on whether a purchase is completed, and what the long-term financial implications may be for all involved.

While most property transactions are completed relatively seamlessly, figures from the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) show that residential conveyancing accounted for nearly a quarter of all complaints it handled over the past three years.

Our own research of consumers, conducted in 2018, also identified that up to a quarter of recent home buyers were dissatisfied with some element of the service they received from their solicitor. One common area of concern was an apparent failure to fully explain the detail and implications of contractual commitments.

What we did

We carried out this thematic review to better understand how firms are delivering residential conveyancing services, and whether they are fulfilling their obligations to their clients.

We visited a sample of 40 law firms offering residential conveyancing services and conducted a detailed review of 80 case files.

What we found

We found that most firms were fulfilling their obligations. In particular, we found that:

  • all firms proactively communicated with clients at all key stages of a purchase, with the majority meeting them face-to-face at least once
  • all firms provided clients with clear information on their complaints procedures
  • firms are increasingly embracing technology, especially regarding how they communicate with clients.

However, we did identify areas for improvement. The two most significant and widespread were:

  • inaccurate initial cost estimates – 34% of firms failed to include all the services/fees a matter could reasonably expect to attract in their initial quotes
  • not being open about the real cost of third-party disbursement and their firm’s mark-up on these – specifically telegraphic transfers. In 37% of cases firms failed to do this, with some charging up to 10 times the actual bank charge for processing the transfer.

Other areas where we identified potential concerns included:

  • not processing paperwork efficiently – especially in relation to requisitions raised by HM Land Registry
  • not explaining the difference between freehold and leasehold ownership
  • failing to double-check that a client understands the long-term implications of contractual obligations and fees.

Conclusions

This review clearly found that in the majority of cases, conveyancing firms actively engage with their clients and fulfil their obligations to them. Property deals progress in a timely and efficient manner and clients feel informed and supported throughout.

But sadly, this is not always the case.

Whether its providing unrealistic or incomplete quotes, or failing to make sure contractual information has been fully understood, solicitors are potentially leaving their clients exposed to significant risk or potential financial hardship.

Next steps

This thematic review took place during 2018. In December the same year, we introduced new transparency rules which require firms offering conveyancing services to publish detailed price and services information, and their complaints procedures online.

The requirement to provide clear pricing information was not new. However, these rules, and associated guidance, now provide the profession with absolute clarity on our expectations for how they should be publishing price information.

These requirements include:

  • outlining all known and potential costs a transaction may attract from the outset
  • specifying all charges being added to the actual cost of any third-party disbursements.

As part of our ongoing work, we will continue to review compliance with these rules and will consider further action where necessary to make sure they are being followed.

On the specific subject of making sure solicitors explain contractual details to clients, especially in relation to leaseholds, we urge all firms to make sure that their clients understand their obligations. If we find evidence that people were not made aware of onerous clauses in their leasehold contracts, such as the regular doubling of ground rents, we will take robust action.

Following this review, we referred six firms onto our internal disciplinary processes. Five of these referrals included concerns about failing to declare that the stated telegraphic transfers fees included an additional charge/mark-up.

Read the full report here

0

Platform Economy in Legal Profession: An Empirical Study on Online Legal Service Providers in China

Platform economy breaks into the legal profession by pooling lawyers with different specializations into a simple user-friendly platform, consolidating the lower-tier supply side of the legal market and generating economy of scale. This paper is the very first empirical piece looking into China’s online legal service portals. It is found that, the intermediary functions of the portals as the “matchmaker” between the supply and the demand side are often commingled with certain substantive legal services, which cannot be easily unbundled from each other. Given the grand information asymmetry in legal service provision and the potential importance the users may attach to the portals’ recommendation, the quality of such intermediation and matchmaking still leaves to be desired. This being said, because the portals help to improve the access to justice in China by virtue of offering an EXTRA channel for acquiring and comparing potentially useful information, which is made available at a much lower cost than visiting a physical law firm, the regulator should strive to improve the quality, rather than block up the source of the information. To that end, this paper proposes, based on the inspiration of the ABS regime, an alternative license for these online legal service providers, which imposes minimum regulatory and leaves room for new innovative business structures to evolve.

Full Paper Available Here

Jing Li, Tilburg University – Department of Business Law

0

Measuring Legal Service Value

This article proposes a theoretical foundation for measuring legal service value. It aims to support efforts to compare the value of offerings from different law firms, as well as alternative legal service providers.

The value of any legal service depends on (i) its effectiveness, (ii) its affordability, (iii) the experience it creates for its clients, and (iv) third party effects (the impact the service-provider has on people other than the client).

These four elements of value can be quantified through various metrics applied to firms or entities that provide a given service. Output metrics evaluate either the actual real-world impact of a legal service service, or the written and oral work products of the firm. Internal metrics check for processes or structures within a firm that demonstrably support high value outputs. Input metrics focus on the attributes and credentials of the individuals who provide the service.

This article concludes that measuring legal service value is challenging, and may be dangerous if done poorly. Nevertheless, the rewards justify the challenge. Higher quality legal professionalism, more effective and less burdensome regulation, and consumer empowerment are among the payoffs if we can find better ways to measure legal service value.

Download paper

Citation:  Semple, Noel, Measuring Legal Service Value (March 20, 2018). University of Windsor Faculty of Law, Canada

0

Understanding consumer experiences of conveyancing legal services

Conveyancing is one of the most common legal services people use in their lifetime, with more than one million homes bought and sold every year in the UK.  However, there are some concerns about the conduct of some solicitors and the quality of service they are providing, with high proportions of insurance claims and complaints to the Legal Ombudsman relating to conveyancing. There are also increasing risks for users of conveyancing services, as technology enables cybercrime and mortgage fraud.

The UK Government has acknowledged these problems and has committed to reforming the conveyancing process, to make it cheaper, faster and less stressful. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also has concerns that poor transparency about price, service and quality is having a negative impact on consumer choice and competition.

Summary

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) commissioned independent research involving 1,501 people who had bought or sold a property during the previous two years. The research explored people’s experiences at each stage of the process, from how they found and chose their solicitor and their satisfaction with the service, to how they thought technology could improve services in the future.

The research found that 76 percent of legal service users were satisfied with the service they received from their conveyancing solicitor. However, it has also identified several areas where improvements could be made.

One key area for improvement the research highlighted was the need to provide people with better information throughout the conveyancing legal process, from the point when they are shopping around all the way through to when the transaction is completed. This information is particularly important for first time buyers and sellers, and for transactions that need specific detailed advice, such as leasehold purchases.

Key findings

Finding and choosing their solicitor

The SRA found there is an appetite for shopping around, including using comparison websites, particularly among first-time buyers and sellers. But there is a lack of information on price and description of services on firm websites, as well as limited information on regulation and consumer protections.

This is currently obstructing people’s ability to fully research and compare providers, so informed decision making difficult.

  • 55% of people rely on recommendations to choose their solicitor, the most common being from estate agents (27%) and friends, family or colleagues (25%).
  • 40% of all people surveyed were aware of comparison websites for legal services providers. Of these, approximately 1 in 3 used one to compare conveyancing providers.
  • First-time buyers and sellers were more likely to have found their solicitor through recommendation (64% compared to 51% with previous experience).
  • Cost (87%) and being a conveyancing specialist (81%) were the most important factors that influenced which solicitor people chose.

Previous SRA research into price transparency found that the vast majority of firms do not advertise price information, and only 15 percent of people were able to obtain prices without having to contact a solicitor directly.

Information and communication

  • One in five people did not think their solicitor provided a clear explanation of the legal process, a figure that rises to two out of five among first time buyers and sellers.
  • One out of three of people did not remember receiving information on how to complain.
  • One out of five of people who had bought a leasehold property did not remember being provided with any information on the length of lease, service charges and other payments, such as ground rent.

Quality of service

  • Over three quarters of people were ‘very satisfied’ (46%) or ‘quite satisfied’ (30%) with their solicitor’s service. This compared with 14% who were dissatisfied.
  • People were satisfied with the service because of speed and efficiency (25%) and because their solicitor was easy to contact and kept them updated (14%).
  • People were dissatisfied because their solicitor was slow and inefficient (37%), communicated poorly and did not keep them updated (22%) or made mistakes (17%). Mistakes typically related to drafting of contracts or errors in the property’s title.

Complaints and redress

  • 9% of all survey respondents made a complaint to the firm about their service. This equates to just over one-quarter (26%) of respondents who said they were dissatisfied. This low rate may be linked to the fact that less than a third of people recalled being given information on how to complain in the first place.
  • First time buyers and sellers were more likely to complain (20% compared to 5% with previous experience).
  • Mistakes made by the solicitor in legal documents or invoices and poor customer service, particularly communication, were the main reasons for complaints.
  • Three quarters of people received a positive outcome to their complaint from their solicitor, including committing to progress the work (27%), an explanation to allay concerns (24%) and an apology (23%).
  • 14% of those who made a complaint reported that they did not receive a response. This issue was also identified in our previous research into solicitors’ first tier complaints processes, where 20% of complainants reported not receiving a response.
  • People demonstrated poor understanding of regulation in the legal services market. Some said they were unaware if their solicitor was regulated when they chose them.

Opportunities and risk of digitisation

  • People recognised the benefits of digitisation and automation for conveyancing transactions and were open to the prospect of more technology being introduced, suggesting it could ‘de-mystify’ the process for first timers.
  • However, they also identified several risks associated with this continued move towards digitisation, including cybercrime and fraud. Information security and protecting client money are two of the SRA’s priority risks for 2017/18.

Download the full report

0

The legal needs of small businesses 2013-2017

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published its third research report focusing on the legal needs of small businesses and looking at how their views have changed – and the legal services market has responded – since similar research was conducted in 2013 and in 2015. It is the largest ever survey of small firms’ interactions with the legal sector drawing on over 10,000 responses.

This research tracks how an individual or business responds when faced with a problem that can be resolved using legal processes.

Commenting on the report, Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the LSB, said:

While our research suggests the impact of legal problems on small businesses has decreased the estimated annual cost to the UK economy of their legal problems is still very substantial, at roughly £40bn. More worryingly 20% of businesses reported health impacts for staff from these legal problems, which could affect more than 1m individuals.

There still remains a perception of legal services as expensive – whether or not that perception is accurate – resulting in many businesses either ignoring legal issues or trying to handle them alone. It is hoped that work by regulators and others to implement the CMA recommendations on improving transparency should help address these issues over time.

There are so many opportunities for legal service providers to expand their business if they can tailor their services to what this group of consumers need, raise awareness of their services and overcome perceptions of high cost.

Key findings from the research include:

Business problems have declined in incidence

  • Around a third of small businesses had a legal problem in the preceding 12 months. This represents a fall from 36 percent in 2013 to 31%
  • The most frequent issues across the three waves of the survey are:
    • late or non-payment for goods or services provided
    • goods and services not as described, and
    • liability for tax owed.
  • Around half of small businesses reporting a legal issue said it had a negative impact
  • Total annual losses to small businesses due to legal problems is estimated at £40bn, and over 1 million individuals in small businesses suffered ill health.

Engagement with legal service providers remains limited

  • There has been a significant increase in the proportion of small businesses doing nothing when experiencing a problem (10%)
  • proportions adopting strategies including handling alone (50%) or using an advisor (24%) have changed little between 2013 and 2017
  • Less than one in 10 employed in-house lawyers or had a retainer. When advice was sought, accountants were consulted more often than lawyers
  • For those that did use a lawyer, 22% shopped around to find a provider. 50% of those who shopped around found it easy to compare different providers.

Views on cost effectiveness of lawyers have not improved

  • Just 11% of small businesses agreed that lawyers provide a cost effective means to resolve legal issues – this is down from 14% in 2015
  • Satisfaction that law and regulation provide a fair trading environment increased from 30% in 2013 to 44% in 2017.

See the full report

0

Vulnerable consumers

A qualitative study of how consumers with mental health problems and dementia experience legal services published by the Legal Services Board (LSB), England and Wales.

Why is this research important?

The LSB has a strategic objective to reduce the existing high levels of unmet legal need. Ensuring the needs of vulnerable consumers are understood and addressed is key to delivering legal services that everyone can access and trust. This research opens a window on the experiences of two specific groups of vulnerable consumers.

Why undertake this research?

Large and increasing numbers of people have mental health problems or dementia. It is estimated that one in four people is likely to experience a mental health problem during their lifetime. There are around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, which is expected to reach 1 million by 2025. We also focused on vulnerabilities linked to mental health problems and dementia as these were areas identified during the scoping phase of our project as having less of an existing evidence base.  The LSB commissioned 60 in-depth interviews across England and Wales with individuals with either mental health problems or dementia (or their carers). All the participants had used, or tried but failed to use, legal services in the preceding 18 months.

All of the relevant outputs of this research and further background to the project can be found here.

0

Opportunities for law firms to tackle unmet legal need

The opportunities for law firms to reach out to potential clients are outlined in a new paper published by the SRA.

Improving access – tackling unmet legal needs outlines some of the barriers faced by the public and small businesses when they need legal services. It also details ways in which law firms can develop their businesses to address this gap in provision.

Research has shown that only one in ten people or small businesses ask solicitors or barristers for help. Among the barriers people said stops them seeking help from professionals are a lack of information on what is available and perceptions of high costs – with 83 percent of small businesses believing services will be unaffordable.

Many law firms are however already finding ways to bridge the gap, and the SRA is changing the way it works to help more solicitors provide new services in new ways. They have published proposals for the next stage of their Looking to the future programme, which should give firms more flexibility in the way they work.  And they are also working on proposals endorsed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to find suitable ways for firms to publish more information about their work and prices, if appropriate.  Read the SRA’s response to the CMA’s report and recommendations here.

Crispin Passmore, SRA Executive Director, Policy, said: “We regulate in the public interest, so it makes sense that we do what we can to help the public access the legal services they need. We have already made changes that make it easier for firms to offer accessible and affordable services such as unbundling services, firms reorganising their structures, helping clients that are more vulnerable and taking on more pro bono cases.

“This report looks at some of those examples in more depth, and looks at the ways in which we can play a further role in helping the profession connect with potential clients. That includes freeing up solicitors to work wherever they want, including in businesses outside LSA regulation, and exploring the options on publishing more detailed information about our firms.”

Improving access – tackling unmet legal needs is a supporting paper for the SRA’s Risk Outlook.

0

The legal needs of small businesses 2015 survey

Large scale quantitative survey of the experiences of 10,528 small businesses, showing the origin of legal problems that they face and their strategies for dealing with these problems, including where they seek advice and their experiences of doing so.

Read the report on the LSB website

0

Higher Demand, Lower Supply? A Comparative Assessment of the Legal Landscape for Ordinary Americans

Comments on the lack of data available, provides a summary of a US household legal needs study in 1994 where 50% of households experienced one of more legal problems annually.

Of those with legal needs, 37% of the poor sought assistance from a third-party for resolution of the problem, 29% from a specifically legal third party such as a lawyer (21%) or other from a non-legal third party (8%). Among moderate-income households, assistance from a third-party was sought with 51% of problems, 39% from a specifically legal source (lawyers 28%, other legal/judicial 12%).
Comparing findings of US and UK legal need studies: the specific use of lawyers in the U.K. surveys is roughly the same as in the U.S.: 27% in England and Wales, 29% in Scotland versus 26% in the U.S. Where the substantial difference emerges is in the use of other third-parties. Moreover, because non-lawyers in the U.K. are authorized to give legal advice (such as volunteer-staffed Citizens Advice Bureaux or proprietary legal advice centres), the effective difference is even greater: Americans received advice from those who are able to give legal advice in only 37% of cases, compared to 60-65% of U.K. cases. Furthermore, a far smaller percentage of the U.K. respondents, as compared to U.S. respondents,

Gillian K. Hadfield. (2010) Higher Demand, Lower Supply? A Comparative Assessment of the Legal Landscape for Ordinary Americans Fordham Urban Law Journal.

Read article on Selected Works website

0