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

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

Prices of Individual Consumer Legal Services 2017: LSB research

The Legal Services Board (England and Wales) has published research which monitors the average prices that consumers pay for a number of common legal services.  Understanding changes in prices over time helps determine whether there have been any improvements in the extent of competition between providers, and affordability and access to justice for consumers. It provides unique insight for those with an interest in these areas within the legal services market.

For the first time this research enabled an analysis of changes over time of the average prices that consumers pay for 15 services covering conveyancing, divorce, wills, lasting power of attorney, probate, and estate administration. This builds on the survey published in 2016.

Findings include:

  • There is a continued significant variation in the price that consumers pay for the same service, so it pays to shop around.
  • Fixed fees continue to be cheaper than other forms of charging in all three market segments
  • There has been no change in the proportion of firms displaying prices on their website between 2015 and 2017 (18%), pointing to a continued lack of information to enable consumers to easily shop around.
  • Prices have changed in six of the 15 scenarios – rising in three divorce scenarios, and falling in two conveyancing scenarios, and in the Lasting Power of Attorney scenario.

This new information will feed into the LSB’s ongoing market evaluation, which seeks to establish the impact of reforms on the legal sector market. Moreover, the LSB believe the findings of this second wave of the research reinforce the Competition and Markets Authority’s conclusions that competition in the sector is not working well and should assist regulators in shaping plans to improve transparency in the market.

Read the research in full

Report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being

A coalition of groups, including the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, have released a comprehensive report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, aimed at addressing the problem of substance use and mental health disorders of lawyers.

The report, by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, includes several dozen recommendations and represents the most ambitious roadmap yet related to the well-being of lawyers. It is intended to spark a broader conversation in the legal profession regarding reasons behind substance use disorders as well as the effects of impairment to guide policy changes and to lead to a cultural shift within the profession.

Last week, the Conference of Chief Justices, which participated in the development of the report, gave the recommendations its endorsement. Other groups involved in the drafting of the task force report were the National Organization of Bar Counsel, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

This report’s recommendations focus on five central themes:

  • Identifying stakeholders and the role each can play in reducing the level of toxicity in the legal profession.
  • Eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors.
  • Emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence.
  • Educating lawyers, judges and law students on lawyer well-being issues.
  • Taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.

Link to the full report

UK study probes access, quality and costs in family law

Most solicitors practising family law in England and Wales appear to be providing services in line with expected standards, according to recently published research.

The study, carried out by Ecorys UK, found fairly strong agreement among consumers that their solicitor met the core competencies, particularly those relating to their professional manner. Just over one-half (58 percent) of consumers rated the overall quality of the service they received as either good or excellent.

Commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the research involved an online survey of 115 firms and a telephone survey of 117 consumers, including people defined as vulnerable due to their situation or displaying personal vulnerability characteristics.  The research team also conducted in-depth interviews with 16 firms and 23 consumers.

Most consumers (86 percent) reported that finding a solicitor was easy, and 52 percent said they based their decision on personal recommendations.

But almost half (47 percent) of consumers felt that their solicitor’s costs were more than expected. Of this group, two thirds (26 respondents) said that their solicitor had not explained why the cost was higher.

Experiences of consumers who may be vulnerable in family law: A research report for the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Research on client care letters

Research by Optimisa commissioned by the legal regulators in England and Wales finds that client care letters – letters sent to clients to explain the lawyer-client relationship when the lawyer is first instructed – are not sufficiently effective. The research identifies principles to help legal services providers better communicate with their clients. These principles are well established in the field of plain English communication, including things like ‘Show a clear purpose’ and ‘Make it easy to read’.

News release on Bar Standards Board website

Research on Client Care Letters report on Bar Standards Board website

Research on Client Care Letters report (PDF)

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

Innovations in the provision of legal services in the United States

In a report for the RAND Corporation, Neil Rickman and James M. Anderson present a framework for examining legal sector innovation in the United States. This framework is to aid policymakers in understanding the likely effects of innovations and the role of regulation in promoting or deterring innovation.

RAND Corporation. “Innovations in the Provision of Legal Services in the United States.” 2011. Accessed 26 October 2015.

Costs of regulation in England and Wales

The Legal Services Board found little evidence on the costs of legal sector regulation, so in late 2014 it surveyed the regulated community and in 2015 it commissioned a study of the incremental costs of regulation – those incurred to comply with legal regulation.

 

Categories of regulatory cost in the studies include:

  • Requirements to have separate client accounts
  • Information requests from the regulator (including applying for practising certificates).
  • Consumer information disclosure
  • Ongoing supervision activity by the regulator
  • File retention
  • Keeping up to date with changes to regulations
  • Professional development training course fees
  • Professional indemnity insurance

Legal Services Board. “The regulated communities’ views on the cost of regulation”. March 2015.

Legal Services Board. “In-depth investigation into the costs of regulation in the market for legal services.” 15 September 2015. Available from the LSB website, accessed 19 October 2015.

Innovation in legal services

The Solicitors Regulation Authority surveyed 1,500 organisations and concluded:

  • Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) have succeeded in promoting innovation and diversity; ABS Solicitors are 13-15 per cent more likely to introduce new legal services.
  • Solicitors are, on average, more innovative than other regulated legal services organisations in terms of both managerial and organisational changes.
  • 80 per cent of legal services organisations feel they have a leadership and culture which supports the development of new ideas.
  • The major effect of innovation in legal services has been to extend service range, improve quality and attract new clients.
  • Regulatory and legislative changes emerge as both a barrier to and driver of innovation. Regulatory and legislative issues were seen as being a significant impediment to innovation by only one fifth and one quarter of respondents respectively.

Solicitors Regulation Authority. “Innovation in legal services.” July 2015.