The Legal Services Board (LSB) last month released its final baseline report on the impacts of change in the legal services market over the past six years leading to the implementation of the Alternative Business Structure (ABS) regime.
Building on its interim report from April 2012, the LSB has updated and expanded its analysis using additional feedback from industry stakeholders, including the recently published Legal Ombudsman complaints data, findings of the Legal Services Consumer Panel 2012 tracker survey on consumer satisfaction and public perceptions of legal services and early findings of the joint Law Society, Ministry of Justice and LSB 2012 survey of solicitors firms. More recent data included in the report looked at elements of demand and supply.
The interim report was based on the LSB's Evaluation Framework, published in April 2011. It highlighted 17 desired outcomes spread across five perspectives: the sector, the consumer, the public, the market and the investor. The LSB noted that it is too early to see the impact of regulatory reforms of the past two years such as independent regulatory bodies, new complaint procedures and ABSs and that the knowledge gaps will remain in at least the next few years. In some areas, such as consumer confidence, good indicators exist - helping to track outcomes against a set of objectives. In other areas, data is either absent (quality) or inconclusive (complaints). The feedback received also shows different stakeholders interpreting the same data in different ways, primarily concerning what the changes in numbers of complaints might mean.
As direct evidence on the quality of legal advice is limited, the LSB has used two proxy indicators - the reported levels of complaints and consumer satisfaction. While consumers report higher level of satisfaction with legal services provided (55% of consumers are very satisfied), and complaints for barristers, legal executives and licensed conveyancers have dropped in number, pointing to an improvement in service quality, results are mixed where data is more diverse. So, it is difficult to conclude with any certainty that the quality of legal services improved from 2008/9 to 2011/12. Public confidence in the legal sector as well as confidence in the law and ethics of the profession has remained unchanged in the period. However, while perceptions of unaffordability remain, the proportion of private consumers viewing the services they received as value for money rose from 46% to 58% between 2009 and 2012.
Other findings include a steady drop in demand for solicitor services for probate grants in 2006/7 to 2011/12, limited price information on legal services and a growing legal industry where non-solicitor legal services account for two-fifths of the industry's total turnover.