New research by Vanilla Research for the Legal Services Consumer Panel suggests a familiar story on how consumers of legal services think about quality. In particular, they emphasise how consumers assume all lawyers are competent but also how they place most reliance on recommendation when choosing a lawyer. I’ve filleted a few key quotes to highlight areas of particular interest (covering builders, specialisation, quality marks, very interesting stuff on consumer review websites (though I have my doubts about this – I’m guessing consumers will be more influenced by these than they let on – it does give pause for thought) and legal MOTs:
[T]here is a common belief that the law is relatively black and white (at least in terms of wills and conveyancing, though less so with divorce/separation), and that since all lawyers work from the same legal framework, the quality of advice
offered will not vary significantly across firms. Expanding on the assumption that all solicitors have a basic level of technical knowledge, there is also an assumption that almost all solicitors are basically competent, and that quality levels across the sector vary less than they do for instance with builders or restaurants.
[I]t was apparent that specialism was often defined more by whether firms offered
a service than whether they truly specialised
[T]here was minimal, if any, knowledge of any existing quality marks for solicitors.
Options such as regular competence checks (or MOTs), compulsory Continuous Professional Development, publication of regulatory information such as complaints data, or an ongoing exam structure for solicitors were all felt by consumers to have merit in terms of ensuring quality standards – and it was commented that many were already common practice elsewhere. Of less clear-cut interest were consumer review websites (possibly valuable, but susceptible to consumers being more likely to complain about solicitors than compliment them) or a Scores on the Doors type approach (with consumers feeling a sliding scale of 5 stars might be too confusing than a binary ‘competent or not’ approach).
The Panel, which I am not a member of contrary to the belief of the Times Higher, has published its thoughts on quality here.