Consumers put reputation before cost when choosing a legal service provider

Recent research has revealed that a conveyancer’s reputation will come before cost when it comes to choosing a provider.

Whilst the study commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority revealed that 32% of consumers felt that price was the most important factor when it came to choosing a law firm, 42% believed that reputation comes top of the list.

The survey, conducted by Economic Insight, was carried out in the wake of the Competition and Markets Authority report which highlighted the lack of information available in the legal sector.

As part of their response to the findings of the report, the regulator set out its own proposals, issuing them in a consultation which also sought to gather industry feedback. The proposals included requiring firms to publish prices online, with an aim to shift the focus of the consumer onto the quality of service. In turn, the regulator felt that this would even out the playing field for legal service providers.

The SRA state that this latest research was conducted to inform their thinking on this proposal, exploring what kind of information would be the most useful for firms to publish.  The regulator highlights that consumer testing and behavioural research methods were a key recommendation in the CMA’s report when assessing the impact of policies aimed at increasing market transparency are concerned.

The research involved:

  • An online survey of 1,001 recent purchasers of conveyancing services
  • A randomised, controlled trial which presented a series of model legal service websites to 4,001 consumers. The SRA state that this allowed them to estimate the effect of price information on consumer choice
  • An online survey of regulated solicitors’ firms exploring attitudes towards publishing price information, including whether they currently publish prices and what they see as the main benefits and barriers to price transparency

The results of the SRA’s research revealed that the majority of respondents shop around for legal services, with two-thirds stated that when instructing conveyancing work, they would consider more than one solicitor. 71% stated that they spent at least an hour going through their options.

However, the proportion of people able to find pricing was much lower, with just 15% of respondents stating that they were able to obtain price information without approaching a third party or having to contact a solicitor directly for a specific quote.

The independent research revealed that availability of prices is more likely to lead to consumers making good financial decisions. However, many still had difficulty with this.

It also showed that people were equally likely to select a provider that offered an estimate of costs, fixed fees, or hourly rates.

Similarly, good financial decision making was generally not affected by the pricing model that they were presented with. However, the research did reveal that the longer that participants spent completing the task, the more likely the chances of them being swayed by the respective model. On this level, the research found that respondents would choose a better value option when presented with fixed fees rather than costs per hour.

Presentation of pricing was found to have more of an impact on decision making, with just under two thirds (62%) found to make good choices when prices were easily available on a firm’s website homepage. This figure fell by 9% when respondents had to fill in an online form to obtain a price.

When looking at the research from firms, whilst the majority (83%) have a website, just 18% advertise prices. The reasons for this varied from not wanting competitors to see fees charged (17%) to tailoring the price on individual client needs (53%).

For the firms that reported they did advertise price, almost three-quarters (70%) stated that this was to enable clients to understand their service structure more easily. Over half (57%) did so to grow their client base, whilst 31% said they wanted to be more competitive.

In regard to guidance provision, 71% stated they felt general best practice information would be useful, two-thirds said that they would like templates or examples on how they should present information.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive said: ’People with a legal problem are struggling to find the information they need to make a good choice of provider. This research suggests more clearly signposted information on price could help people. Of course, it is only one part of the picture. Just as price is important, a firm’s reputation and expertise also really matter.

’We will consider the research findings alongside responses to our late 2017 consultation on better information, so that we make sure any future changes are based on strong evidence.’

Today's Conveyancer