What Legal Consumers Want

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.


  1. Am I correct in surmising from the results of the Peppermint survey that access to justice is not just hindered by the matter of costs but also by a lack of trust? Can marketing campaigns and/or the use of technology alleviate the lack of trust component between lawyers and client/consumer? Or, will lawyers have to demonstrate that they are trustworthy? If so, is technology the mode of choice to demonstrate trustworthiness? In other words, what actions are needed to not only cut costs but demonstrate the lawyer’s commitment to accessible justice and hence build trust? Will blogging, tweeting and other social media suffice to demonstrate trust and commitment to this cause or will actions speak louder than words?

  2. Thanks, Karen. Indeed, the findings of the UK research you reference are echoed by some research done here and should be the cause of serious reflection – and action – by Canadian lawyers.

    Verna – I don’t think that all access to justice issues can be overcome by technology, but it think it is incumbent on us to see how many it can help address.

    What I find interesting in these kinds of responses from purchasers of legal services is that, like those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, they are finding other ways to resolve their problems. Those other ways are rooted in how they tackle other challenges in their lives. We need to adapt to that expectation. The influence of technology on other parts of the lives of our clients and potential clients is profoundly changing how they expect to interact with the legal system and others. Would we all not be better off if problems with legal aspects were addressed with the benefit of input from those of us trained in those matters? And if, either because we don’t deliver services in the ways clients expect or because they are concerned about how expensive they may be (even if, in fact, they could and would pay the price if it were only known upfront), can we really blame anyone else if others start to attract those clients?

    While the report Karen quotes speaks of “businesspeople” I wonder who they included in that group. It may not be just those clients seeking “corporate” law services that have this expectation. It may be that individuals who need assistance in their personal lives,but who, through the technology and expectations they are accustomed to in the workplace, have come to seek out professionals who will serve them in new ways which take account of these changes.

  3. Verna,
    I think you may be correct in surmising that lack of trust is part of the equation. The survey report notes that fear plays into consumer decisions not to retain counsel, and fear can be an expression of a lack of trust.

    Technology can be used to bridge the gap between lawyers and consumers. Use of social media, as you suggest, can bring a human face to the profession. It can also be used as a tool to explain, clarify and translate the law into common language.

    Failing to use technological tools that are commonplace throughout the marketplace does, as the article suggests, serve to further alienate the legal profession from those it seeks to serve by building upon the perception that lawyers are somehow superior or inaccessible. This plays into and feeds the trust issues you’ve identified.

    These two issues are interrelated. Keeping in tune with technological advances is essential to good client service and may also assist in bridging at least some of the identified gaps in access to justice.

  4. To clarify….self represented litigants are those who choose to enter the system without a lawyer.

    Unrepresented litigants simply don’t have a lawyer because they have no choice. If one has no funds they aren’t SRLs they are unrepresented. Minor difference? Not really. I never consider myself self represented.

    As for technology…the LSUC just held a conference where they discussed access to justice for the middle class. Throughout the presentations they sent out tweets. I responded in turn to their tweets but was ignored. That confirmed my suspicions. They really don’t want input from consumers. We get in the way.

    The report will collect dust. Litigants will spend all their money then when they have none left they will be let go by their lawyers and sent out on their own.

    The bright side to this….a growing number of litigants know how to download forms, file motions and attend court on our own.

    Lawyers may regret this inaction and failure to listen.