Surveys obviously need to be taken with a large dose of care, but a couple of recent ones can give heart to those banging the drum of the traditional legal model. First, a survey run by legal PR and marketing agency RTS Media has found that just 3% of consumers rate a recognisable brand such as Tesco, the Co-op or the AA as an important factor when choosing a law firm. Personal recommendation was the most important factor in choosing a lawyer (43%). Being able to call a lawyer directly (5%) and location (4%) also came ahead of "a brand that I recognise". (Trowers & Hamlins might want to consider that lowly 4% figure in the light of their announcement that they are opening a new office in Birmingham.......)
Meanwhile, research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Legal Services Board has found that face-to-face advice remains important to clients in several key areas of work, especially family matters and will-writing. (Thank you as ever to Neil Rose of Legal Futures for his reporting of these developments). YouGov's qualitative research with dissatisfied clients showed "clearly" that clients felt face-to-face contact at the outset would have prevented the poor service received. The research also showed "unlike other services such as insurance......choosing a legal service provider is very much down to reputation and past experience."
Of course surveys come out every other week showing something that each side of the 'modernisation' debate can point to, but what I think generally comes out is that law is an area where the personal angle, and the comfort and security generated by leaving your matter in the hands of someone properly qualified, is still so important. Will this persist? I wonder whether commentators on the opticians market were saying the same thing 20 years ago.......
Speaking of the LSB, Chris Kenny, the Chief Executive, created a bit of a stir last week with his warning that many lawyers are missing the chance to learn from substantial numbers of consumers who make a complaint. Certainly it seems that law firms can be dismissive and defensive when dealing with client complaints and this is something that could be improved upon, both for the reputation of the profession as a whole and for individual firms wanting to retain genuinely dissatisfied clients. Of course customer service has always been important to the legal profession - think of all those old detective novels where the old family solicitor has served the family so well for generations......However, what I think has changed now is that there is much more of a culture of expecting good customer service, and being willing to complain if that is not met. This applies across all industries, and the law can no longer rely on its exalted and professional status to remain immune to this.