Consumer referral sites appear to be growing apace and gaining some plaudits. They have the potential to greatly improve the quality of consumer choices over lawyers (which are mainly governed by referrals and crude google or yellow pages searches at the moment: a client searches and picks the first firm that looks like it deals with their kind of case). A system which genuinely and objectively collates consumer feedback and uses that to help consumers make a choice has to be a good thing. There are some reservations, membership based schemes may tend towards protecting members interests rather than consumer interests (a lot will depend on the business models employed and I would doubt the benefit to a referral site of striking the balance in favour of its members over consumers). Another is that consumer satisfaction alone is a crude indicator of quality. Consumers know if they’ve had a good service but not whether that service is technically correct. Take wills: they know if the lawyer (or will-writer) was sympathetic, quick, cheap and apparently on top of what they do but not whether they have a good will which does what they want it to. Nor will they ever find out, though their beneficiaries might.
It will be interesting to see how much further referral sites seek to go than consumer satisfaction in demonstrating quality and value for money. Limitations on billing practices would be, I suspect, encouraged: sites will encourage and perhaps require more fee fixing. It will also be interesting to see if they go further down the quality measurement and assurance route. Peer review and model clients would be something which could obviously be attempted if the benefits to a brand of genuine quality were paramount.