A very interesting Chatham House Rules seminar today at the LSB, gave me pause for thought. The vexed topic of consumer information sites popped up with the words Solicitorsfromhell ghosting across a few peoples lips. I’m reasonably sanguine about the evolution of consumer sites to help choose lawyers. Those who worry about clients flaming their lawyers online, should take a more laid back view, I believe (even post the Big Kordowski). If we think about how we use Tripadvisor or Amazon then we look at the star ratings, and then the number of responses. We naturally look for good star ratings but bad ratings send us (well they send me at any rate) looking for something with higher numbers of ratings. And one or two bad ratings amongst a sea of excellence are ignored. Indeed, even small numbers of good ratings send me looking for higher volumes of rating. In the context of legal services, this would send me looking for higher volumes of positive consumer feedback, and this would (probably) be something of a proxy for specialisation. My experience may not be typical but I am pretty sure I am not a particularly sophisticated consumer, I have a history scarred by Betamax video recorders and Creative MP3 players, to prove the point, but I am reasonably convinced that consumer information sites will a) spring up anyway and b) are probably – on balance, and subject to concerns about gaming the ratings through self or competitor posting – a good thing.
There were a couple of interesting interventions in the debate. Internet purchased services can confine their reviews to customers. That also means they can censor reviews, but there may be ways around that. More interestingly members organisations can confine their reviews to members. “Which?” being the obvious example. So, where this led me was the solicitors profession is a members organisation and it purchases quite a lot of services essential to the quality of their client’s cases: experts and counsel being two very important ones. So why not have an SRA or Law Society managed site which shared information on cost and quality of experts and Counsel? Might be good for solicitors and good for their clients. Might not be so good for intra-professional relations, especially as the professions increasingly compete with each other (e.g. over QASA (Advocacy Accreditation)). Nonetheless, one worth thinking about?