Consumers urge legal providers to use complaints feedback to improve services, research shows

The Legal Services Board has published new research on the challenges consumers face when complaining to lawyers and law firms about their services, with recommendations for improvements.

Participants in this “deliberative” research said the ideal complaint process would be based on empathy, transparency, accessibility, fairness, and ease. They said providers should make it easy for consumers to complain and that feedback should be used to improve services and reduce future complaints. 

Participants stressed the importance of setting and managing consumer expectations through clear communication at the start of the client-provider relationship. They also suggested that providers should proactively invite client feedback and establish a culture of continuous improvement. This would enable providers to spot early signs of dissatisfaction before they escalate. 

The research involved 45 people who had used and made a complaint about legal services or had cause to complain but hadn’t –  so-called “silent sufferers”-  in the last two years and 10 professional stakeholders, including regulators, lawyers, the Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Legal Ombudsman. This meant there was scope to explore how different options for change would work in the real world.

Participants also discussed whether soft skills/empathy should be included as a component of ongoing professional development for lawyers. Other suggestions included presenting complaints information in more accessible and innovative formats and signposting support/advocacy organisations within complaints information for consumers. 

Alan Kershaw, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said: 

‘The Legal Services Board is committed to ensuring people and small businesses in England and Wales have access to high-quality legal advice that meets their needs. Achieving this vision demands a culture in which lawyers and law firms respond promptly to complaints and proactively seek feedback – good and bad – from consumers and use it to improve their services.  

As the research makes clear, empathy is central to effective resolution of complaints . When people seek legal advice, they may well be in a vulnerable situation. Perhaps they are a victim of fraud, undergoing a stressful transaction like a house sale, or dealing with an employment dispute. If their relationship with their lawyer then breaks down, it can compound the problem. So, it is vital to put yourself in the shoes of a complainant. Empathy helps manage consumer expectations and improves the design of services. “

 The LSB will contribute to ensuring that people who use legal services have access to effective and fair complaints handling procedures through updated policy and guidance to regulators on first-tier complaints. The LSB will launch a consultation on these in August. 

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