More dangerous drivel from the Legal Services Consumer Panel

by Richard Burcher

Under normal circumstances, we would not bother wasting time addressing the asinine drivel that periodically issues forth from the Legal Services Consumer Panel but the latest article in the Law Society Gazette (1 August 2018) simply cannot pass without comment. Why? Because the panel’s latest utterance goes well beyond an appalling lack of understanding and reaches into the realms of the mischievous and self-interested cultivation of dissent where there is currently none. Put bluntly, troublemaking for the hell of it.

The article’s opening paragraph begins ‘…efforts to persuade legal services consumers to shop around for their lawyer appear to be making little headway. The Legal Services Consumer Panel today reports that the proportion of consumers comparing legal service providers remains unchanged year-on-year at 27%. This proportion drops even lower in certain areas of law, such as probate (16%) and personal injury (14%).

Efforts have been made in recent months to encourage legal services users to shop around, not least the growth in comparison websites where firms can be assessed on quality and cost.

But the consumer panel says these sites remain ‘largely unused or opaque’, and the need for wider changes, identified by the Competition and Markets Authority back in 2016, is as great as ever.

Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: ‘It remains a concern that seven out of 10 consumers do not shop around in the legal services market. ‘This needs to change if the vision of empowered consumers stimulating competition is to be achieved.’

Just think about that for a moment. On one interpretation, Sarah Chambers seems to believe that your average consumer is too stupid to make an informed choice as to which law firm they engage to undertake their work and that they must be protected from their own stupidity by doubling down on efforts to encourage legal services users to shop around.

As many of the comments added at the end of the Gazette article note, perhaps there is another explanation and that is that Sarah Chambers and her panel are looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

And all of this despite the fact that ‘…almost nine in 10 legal services consumers were satisfied with the outcome of their matters and 84% were satisfied with their legal service.’

Most businesses would be ecstatic if 90% or more of their customers or clients were satisfied in which context, ‘satisfied’ basically means that they feel they had good service, good advice and fair value.

All of the panels’ activities in this area and Ms Chambers statements are predicated on the utterly bizarre assumption that there is no or inadequate competition in the legal services market. Clearly neither Ms Chambers nor any of her panel members have spent a single minute inside a law firm in the last 10 years. Our work takes us into a very large number of law firms in all locations and of all sizes and sophistication. Fierce competition is a day to day reality for all of them

It’s Economics 101 Ms Chambers. Since 2008, supply has exceeded demand, ergo price pressure is the norm and it is even greater in the consumer areas you have targeted. Talk about a barking mad solution looking for a non-existent problem.

And in furtherance of the panel’s objectives, the enormous pressure that has been applied over the last two years to extend the regulatory regime to require publication of pricing in pursuit of the panel’s objective of vigorously encouraging consumers to shop around will shortly bear fruit and be upon us.

We are already on record as slamming this ill-conceived initiative which we have no doubt will in time be shown to have been completely ineffective, at least so far as the panel’s objectives are concerned.

In fact, now that the draft guidelines for the enforced publication of pricing are available for scrutiny, we will be actively turning our minds and our resources to how we can advise our client firms to pay lip service to the requirements whilst fundamentally avoiding the intent of the new rules.

Civil disobedience maybe, but Sarah Chambers and her panel have crossed a line. They are now fomenting conflict between the legal profession and its clients where there is demonstrably and empirically no problem to begin with. We cannot refrain from calling out this egregious behaviour for what it is.

The full article can also be read on the Validatum website, by clicking here.

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by Richard Burcher

More dangerous drivel from the Legal Services Consumer Panel

by Richard Burcher