Clients Encouraged To Shop Around For Legal Services

The Legal Services Board (LSB), recently published its Prices of Individual Consumer Legal Services in England and Wales 2020: Wave 3 of a survey of prices for commonly used legal services report, in which it highlights regional price variations for “what is fundamentally the same service”, and encourages the public to shop around for their legal service needs.

The report is founded on research conducted by the LSB and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in which 1,500 providers were contacted to discuss price on 15 specific scenarios covering conveyancing, divorce and wills, trusts and probate.

Regional variations were discovered and the report suggests that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions has resulted to more clients turning to the internet and instructing solicitors that they haven’t needed to meet face to face.

The report states:

“The research found a wide dispersion of prices. While a range of prices is expected when differing service quality is available, over time we would expect to see a narrowing of price range for similar scenarios, which was not evident in this study.

“We found no consistent pattern on the spread of prices, as was the case in the 2017 or 2015 waves of this research. We also found no trend between 2017 and 2020, with some spreads barely changing but others increasing or decreasing.”

Naturally, legal services in London were 33% more expensive than firms in other areas of the country, whilst the North of England (20%) and Wales (17%) were cheaper.

Another factor that the report explored focused on whether those involved offered fixed prices or used estimates.

The report found:

“Providers who offered fixed prices were on average 35% cheaper than those using estimates. This may be partly influenced by the fact that some providers prefer to give a range rather than a single price and when prompted to do so tended to settle towards the top of the range.

“We also found that providers who used estimates were more likely to have cases costing the customer more than originally anticipated.”

The LSB argued that greater price competition in the legal sector may be stimulated by information being available about the quality of legal service providers, “so it is important that regulators find solutions to help consumers compare on quality as well as price”.

Sheila Kumar, Chief Executive of The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) says:

“This research from the CMA and LSB makes an important contribution to our understanding of the initial impact the transparency requirements we and other front-line regulators have implemented. It is good to see that the changes have made a significant difference to the number of practices who are displaying prices on their websites. We know from our own monitoring that most CLC Practices are compliant and where there are issues we are taking a hands-on approach in ensuring they come into compliance while being ready to take other regulatory steps if necessary.

“We continue to believe that while price is important for consumers it is not the only way that users of legal services should select their provider. That is why, as well as supporting the transparency measures currently in place, we are exploring individually and collaboratively how best to further advance this agenda particularly through the use of quality indicators. We are looking at how best to define indicators which are easily understandable and are of true use to consumers.

“While there will be a range of factors underlying why providers in different part of England and Wales need to charge different prices, we would also point out that there are a number of online only businesses who are competing for business with geographically based providers.

“We support the call for consumers to carry out their own research before selecting the provider they wish to use and, as well as price, we would encourage consumers to consider what else matters to them, be that local knowledge, convenience, type of transaction or recommendations. That is why we have developed and encourage consumers to use our How to Choose a Conveyancer guide to assist them in thinking about different matters to consider in choosing their conveyancer.

“This is a full and detailed report and we will seek to use the information it contains as we further develop our thinking about quality and price.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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