Greater price transparency would help people make better legal choices

Posted On: 
25th January 2018

The majority of solicitors do not advertise prices, despite evidence that customers are willing to shop around and are more likely to make ‘good financial decisions’ when prices are more readily available.

  • Largest ever behavioural trial on price and decision making in legal services
  • Two-thirds of people shop around for legal services, but only 15 percent can get prices without having to ask for a specific quote
  • The way that price is accessed has a significant effect on people’s ability to make good choices.
  • Reputation and price are the most important factors in choosing a provider

These are among the findings of research into price transparency in the legal services market published today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Including a large-scale randomised trial of 4,001 members of the public, independently conducted by Economic Research, the research also featured surveys of 1,001 recent home buyers, and 1,146 law firms.

The study found that despite two-thirds of people surveyed saying they had shopped around, and 71% saying they had researched options for at least an hour before selecting a conveyancing solicitor, only 15 percent of consumers were able to obtain the pricing information they wanted without having to make a specific request first.

It also found that presenting price information made it more likely that people would make good financial decisions, although some still found it difficult to do so.

Furthermore, it showed that the way in which prices are accessed can significantly affect whether somebody makes a ‘good financial decision’. In a trial that asked participants to pick between different providers, 62 percent selected the best option when prices were readily available on a website homepage, compared to 57 percent of participants when prices had to be sought by filling out an online form.

Only 18 percent of the firms surveyed said that they advertised any price information, whether on or offline. Reasons for not doing this ranged from basing price on the needs of each client (53 percent), to not wanting competitors to see their prices (17 percent). However, of the firms that did advertise price, 70 percent did so in order to make it easier for clients to understand their services, 57 percent to attract more clients and 31 percent to be more competitive.

The research supported the view that while price is important, quality is even more so. Those surveyed cited a firms’ reputation (42 percent) and price (32 percent) as the two most important factors in choosing a provider, ahead of location (26 percent) and a personal recommendation (22 percent). Firms also made it clear that it is important for people to focus on a number of different factors such as quality and consumer protections when they choose their legal provider. The SRA has committed to conducting further research this year to identify the effect of such factors on consumer choice.

The research findings will help inform the SRA’s plans for making better information available to the public. It recently consulted on proposals which included creating a solicitor and law firm public register, firms publishing information on prices, and a new logo to help people understand the protections in place when using a regulated firm or solicitor. It will make a decision on next steps in the summer.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive said: “At the moment, people with a legal problem are struggling to find the information they need to make a good choice of provider.

“This research suggests more clearly signposted information on price could help people. Of course, it is only one part of the picture. Just as price is important, a firm’s reputation and expertise also really matter.

“We will consider the research findings alongside responses to our late 2017 consultation on better information, so that we make sure any future changes are based on strong evidence. That it is sound in practice as well as principle.”

The findings of the SRA research build on the Competition and Markets Authority’s report of 2016 found that there is not enough information available on price, quality and service to help those who need legal support choose the best option.