Legal Futures this week posted on the results of the third annual survey of what clients want from their legal service provider, conducted by legal technology service provider Peppermint Technology in the United Kingdom.
The post included two points that caught my eye. First, the survey found that clients are concerned about whether their legal advisor is able to provide online accessibility:
“There is now a significant body of businesspeople for whom online access has become a necessity of their working life,” the report said. “If their legal advisers are not perceived to be up to speed with this development, the people running those businesses will understandably feel alienated.”
I doubt many lawyers have considered the possibility that they might alienate clients through failing to keep up with technological innovations in the delivery of legal services. While some still wear their lack of technological skills as a badge of honour, most lawyers are competent at minimum in use of basic office technologies, whether by choice or as a matter of necessity. Yet, as this client survey demonstrates, use of current technologies in legal practice cannot be viewed only as a matter of efficiency and keeping overhead low, but has become a critical component of client service that cannot be ignored.
Secondly, the survey also noted that a significant proportion of those surveyed would choose not to seek counsel when they have a legal issue. Of the 1,026 consumers surveyed, more than half would not seek legal advice to address their legal problem for the following reasons:
Some 68% either fear that using a solicitor will be far too expensive or that “the costs are not clear and could escalate”. The groups closest to pensionable age were the most price sensitive.
Among the remainder, 15% believed they could probably sort out their legal issue themselves “with help off the internet”. This percentage rose to nearly one in five of the group aged 55-64 (19%).
This decision by more than 50% of respondents to go without legal advice, driven largely by fear of unknown costs, but also by the contemporary DIY mentality, confirms there remains a significant unmet need for legal services.
Those consumers who are not instructing counsel will nonetheless, typically, forge ahead to address their legal issues as best they are able. Some will succeed and accomplish their desired outcomes; but others will not, likely becoming even more disillusioned with the legal system in the process. Dr. Julie MacFarlane, in her blog post Complexify your thinking and adjust to the new reality: 2 first steps for lawyers facing the crisis in access to justice, notes that among Canadian self-represented litigants:
…the majority are trying (often unsuccessfully, but trying) to do the very best they can against almost impossible odds….Most SRLs keep going because they feel that they have no choice.
The Peppermint survey report politely refers to these self-representing consumers as being reluctant to instruct counsel, and points to the opportunities and challenges this creates for the future legal marketplace:
For the lawyer of the future, confronting the reluctance to instruct is absolutely essential and possibly the key challenge to building market share and surviving in a crowded market place.
The challenges of providing quality client service through use of current technologies and of addressing the legal needs of those who are not currently represented by lawyers are both critical elements of the future of law discussions ongoing in Canadian law societies, bar associations and legal media. It is worth noting that while many of these discussions point to changes already implemented in the UK as potential solutions in Canada, these survey results suggest that the solutions there remain elusive as well.