Should we just put the consumer in charge?

Consumer referral sites appear to be growing apace and gaining some plaudits.  They have the potential to greatly improve the quality of consumer choices over lawyers (which are mainly governed by referrals and crude google or yellow pages searches at the moment: a client searches and picks the first firm that looks like it deals with their kind of case).  A system which genuinely and objectively collates consumer feedback and uses that to help consumers make a choice has to be a good thing.  There are some reservations, membership based schemes may tend towards protecting members interests rather than consumer interests (a lot will depend on the business models employed and I would doubt the benefit to a referral site of striking the balance in favour of its members over consumers). Another is that consumer satisfaction alone is a crude indicator of quality.  Consumers know if they’ve had a good service but not whether that service is technically correct.  Take wills: they know if the lawyer (or will-writer) was sympathetic, quick, cheap and apparently on top of what they do but not whether they have a good will which does what they want it to.  Nor will they ever find out, though their beneficiaries might. 

It will be interesting to see how much further referral sites seek to go than consumer satisfaction in demonstrating quality and value for money.  Limitations on billing practices would be, I suspect, encouraged: sites will encourage and perhaps require more fee fixing.  It will also be interesting to see if they go further down the quality measurement and assurance route.  Peer review and model clients would be something which could obviously be attempted if the benefits to a brand of genuine quality were paramount.

 

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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2 Responses to Should we just put the consumer in charge?

  1. Neil Howlett says:

    The LSC never cracked the issue of assessing the quality of legal advice. It and the MoJ confused “consumer satisfaction” with quality advice, and listened to their own propaganda, especially about their own services. The former may/should be a necessary component of quality advice, but I don’t think anyone has cracked assessing what that is. Even “peer review” is not a sufficient mechanism as what may be very good technical advice is worthless unless tailored to the individual client.

    • Richard Moorhead says:

      Thanks! To be fair to the LSC, I’d say they have probably tried to do more on quality assurance/assessment than any other legal service stakeholder than I can think of (though would be interested to hear suggestions of others and I should point out I was involved in researching for the LAB and LSC many of the mechanisms they employed). Interestingly, unless I have missed something they have paid relatively little attention to client satisfaction (mainly because our research showed that clients thought their lawyers were terrific even when they were, well, not competent). I agree that peer review on its own is not a perfect approach: a basket of approaches is best, if they can be applied proportionately. Easier said than done of course.

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