Not all consumers are being treated equally, says the Legal Services Consumer Panel

By Lee Dixon In Legal News

Consumer watchdog, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has found that black and minority ethnic (BME) groups are receiving a “raw deal” in its latest research.

According to the Legal Services Consumer Panel, trust, loyalty and satisfaction among BME groups is significantly lower than among white British consumers when choosing and using legal services.

In February and March, the 2016 tracker survey carried out by YouGov consulted a total of 3,500 people, with “Booster” samples from BME communities to ensure that their latest findings were genuinely representative of opinion in the UK

While the consumer panel recognised that societal inequalities could be partly responsible for a lack of trust, it nevertheless suggested that the legal system was not currently meeting the demands of BME groups.

The panel’s report stated:

There are several areas where the approved regulators and representative bodies can and should take action to ensure that legal services providers better serve all users.”

Earlier surveys have suggested that people are generally satisfied with the performance of their own lawyers, even if they lack trust in the legal profession as an industry. However, in this recent survey it was found that this assertion is less true among BME groups. In contrast to the 83% of white British clients satisfied in their own provider’s performance, just 67% or BME clients said the same. Among Pakistani and black African groups this figure dropped further to 60%.

Interestingly, the lack of satisfaction was not borne out in the number of dissatisfied people prepared to complain about their legal provision. Just 34% of BME users of legal services raised concerns about poor service received, compared to 51% of white British.

The report continued:

Fundamentally, the type of legal problem [BME consumers} are likely to face tends to differ . . .  [They] are more likely to deal with immigration services, advice about benefits or tax credits, employment disputes, or housing problems, all areas of law which are less transactional, and provide less of an element of choice in terms of actively selecting a legal professional or other provider.”

Perhaps as a result of this, it was established that BME groups were half as likely to use the same lawyer again, and valued specialism above reputation, price or speed of delivery as the most important attribute of a legal service provider. This was at odds with white British consumers of legal services who valued reputation, price and convenience above other qualities.

Among the other interesting findings of the research, it was gleaned that BME groups were slightly more likely to have shopped around and compared service providers (11% searched the Internet) and were found to have a far greater experience of areas of law where fixed fees were not used, such as personal injury, family and housing.

The study found that fewer BME consumers had a will – just 28% as opposed to 42% of white British people. Among the Pakistani and black African communities this figure was even lower, at 13% and 12% respectively.

As part of a new study, the watchdog also advised that regulators and representative bodies should be researching this issue further. Among the recommendations was the suggestion that a greater awareness of the importance of wills was necessary in BME groups and work towards greater price transparency.

Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said:

We have seen this gap in satisfaction and experience persist over the last six years, but this report really highlights the extent to which BME groups are getting a raw deal when choosing and using legal services.

“It is clear that there is work to be done by regulators and representatives to ensure everyone is able to access quality, satisfactory and affordable legal services, no matter their ethnicity.”

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