Choosy Customers

Adrian Jones, product and development director at Tikit, explains the dramatic changes taking place in how consumers select legal service providers.

The recent Legal Services Consumer Panel report (carried out by YouGov) has found some dramatic shifts between 2011 and 2019 in how consumers go about choosing legal services. Most notably, younger people are much more likely (39%) to shop around than older consumers (25%). What factors are they taking into account when shopping around, and what can law firms do to prepare for this increasingly customer centric legal services market?

Law firm lag

When talking about changes in how people choose law firms, Adrian Jones, product and development director at Tikit, makes a comparison with more general consumer patterns of buying behaviour. He notes how, because of the plethora of information available on the internet, people are becoming more intelligent in their buying habits. “A decade ago, if you wanted to retain a solicitor, or renew your car insurance, you reached for the Yellow Pages, picked an advert, and called
them during office hours,” he says. He notes, in particular, that people would generally speak with just one or two possible providers.

The advent of the digital world changed this long-standing pattern of behaviour. “Now, we can get multiple comparative quotes for many services, such as car insurance, extremely quickly – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is also a great deal of transparency in both the service and the price,” says Jones. He compares this current state of affairs with that in legal services, which he thinks is not as advanced. “You rarely find a law firm open on a Saturday afternoon,” he notes. “But you can buy house insurance at that time of the day, or a new-build house throughout the weekend. The law will inevitably have to evolve and catch up.”

Transparency offer

People also increasingly want transparency around prices. Again, Jones draws comparison with the certainty that people expect from their everyday consumer services. “When you buy a new car, you know what it will cost. Generally, when you need legal services for property work, or a will for example, there should be the same transparency. Commercial work is different, but there should certainly be transparency for consumer legal work. Garages will normally put
their service charges matrix on the wall,” he points out.

This was certainly the thinking behind new Solicitors Regulation Authority guidelines that required firms to list prices for certain services on their websites. The Legal Services Consumer Panel report also found that people most commonly have to find out the price of a service by asking the provider directly – surprisingly (or perhaps not, given how law firms lag behind), only 7% of legal consumers found prices via the website.

“A firm’s website is one of the most important first points of contact for a client. It seems counterproductive not to have transparency over pricing and allow a detailed quote for most types of work. Pricing is obviously not the only factor, but transparency is expected. SRA rules already covered the need for transparency on the basis of charges, but don’t dictate the level of detail,” says Jones.

The reputation offer

However, price is not the only, or even the most important, consideration. The report found that, for 79% of consumers, a firm’s reputation was the most important factor in choosing legal services.  Jones is not surprised. “People want certainty around pricing, but that’s not necessarily the driving factor. They still want to be in a safe pair of hands when they turn to a solicitor. They want to know how much it will cost, but they also want a quality service from a trustworthy organisation,” he points out.

But how can a potential client find out about a firm’s reputation? One avenue is for a firm to list itself with a neutral third party. “Firms are starting to use organisations such as Trustpilot; that’s part of the transition to internet legal services,” says Jones. It could also be a partial solution to another finding from the report – that 44% of consumers didn’t find it easy to compare different providers. “The availability of technology will always drive change and law firms need to embrace it,” he says.

Stay competitive

Jones points out that costs are one of the most common causes of complaints by consumers of legal services. “Most aspects of what we purchase in our daily
lives is for a known cost, whether it be for a new car, or decorator services. Legal services will increasingly need to move to this way of working. Consumers feel comfortable and trusting of firms when they have a transparent fixed pricing structure to follow. There are obviously complexities in some types of work that make giving fixed fees difficult, but this shouldn’t be the norm,” he says.

Portals can be a key part of ongoing transparency between the law firm and its client – and the extent to which consumers demand transparency can depend on which legal service they are buying. “People want to know what’s going on with their conveyancing transaction at any point in time, day or night. For other, less
time-critical or emotive, transactions like probate, I don’t think there’s the same need to be proactive yet,” he says.

“For firms looking to buy new software, it’s important that they think about the client experience. A client portal is part of that. However, although it’s often on their shopping list, the uptake at the moment is not very high,” he adds. And we can’t forget that it can all come down to how a firm works internally. An effective practice and case management system can influence consumer decisions by making a firm more competitive and better engaged with the client.

“The use of a good modern practice management system, backed up by strong internal processes, will reduce the base costs of undertaking the work. It also reduces risks, reduces the management of risks, and give greater visibility of costs. This then makes it easier to remain competitive from a position of certainty,” says Jones.

Read the full issue of LPM mag here