Will compelling firms to appear on a comparison platform work for the claims sector? Andy Cullwick, head of marketing at First4Lawyers, takes a look
Go compare! It’s not just opera singers imploring us to use price comparison websites. The Legal Services Board (LSB) is reportedly considering forcing law firms to sign up to comparison websites in order to try and increase transparency across the sector.
Why? Well, it seems that the LSB feels that the profession’s response to the Competition and Market Authority’s call in 2016 for action to aid consumer choice has been underwhelming, and is looking at ways in which it can address this. But will compelling firms to appear on a platform comparing price or performance work for the claims sector?
Possibly. There have been efforts previously to create comparison sites for legal services—Contact Law, Conveyancing Store, Unbiased and Solicitor.info are some examples—but they just haven’t taken off in the same way that the utilities and insurance sectors have. Most likely, this is because the provision of legal services isn’t generally commoditised, and as a result, the market hasn’t embraced the idea.
Recently, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) published its Consumer Impact Report and found that despite the LSB’s efforts, just 2% of consumers used price comparison sites in 2019 to choose a legal services provider, unchanged since 2014. The report also highlighted that the percentage of consumers who say it is easy to make price comparisons between providers has fallen from 58% in 2018 to 38% in 2019.
The LSB is definitely feeling under pressure to demonstrate that it has taken the CMA’s concerns on board and steps have been taken, ahead of the CMA’s report, which will be published at the end of the year. Law firms are now required to publish prices for certain types of work and display a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) digital badge on their websites. They are clearly concerned though that these measures alone will not satisfy the CMA’s request for consumers to be given more information about the price and service they will receive, and that regulators promote the use of independent feedback platforms.
Unfortunately for the LSB, its current evidence suggests consumer use of comparison sites “remains low and law firms are still not embracing them”, which is disappointing as comparison sites would support the move to transparency and be a positive step for consumers. Not only would they provide greater choice, but would present an opportunity to increase consumer understanding of the services offered, something that the Legal Beagles site does well, and in turn can make the law seem more accessible.
A key consideration for success needs to be the format in which information is displayed for legal services. Unlike its more successful counterparts, utilities and insurance, it is very difficult to provide ‘instant pricing’, and this has been a hurdle. However, firms do still need to help the consumer find a price, and the ideal system should prompt specific questions based on the legal matter required to gain enough information to provide an indicative price, at least.
According to the LSCP report, only 16% of those searching for accident or injury advice use a comparison site and yet personal injury claims advice is an area where indicative pricing shouldn’t be too difficult to display due to the nature of the claims process, where general damage compensation levels are set depending on the type of injury sustained. Law firms should therefore be able to categorise corresponding levels of advice and be able to provide an indicative cost for their services.
The ideal legal services comparison platform will be able to deliver consumers multiple quotes depending on their search criteria, and offer the ability to compare and contrast the different offers based on customer service reviews, company information and indicative pricing.
Alternatively, the LSB has revisited the idea of signposting clients to review and feedback websites. But this isn’t an area embraced by all in the sector, either. Yet firms are missing a trick.
A 2017 report by Podium found that online reviews impact on purchasing decisions for moer than 93% of consumers, and 68% are willing to pay up to 15% more for the same product or service if they are assured they will have a better experience.
There are long-held views among lawyers that they only attract negative comments from unhappy clients, but this often isn’t the case, and in many instances negative reviews lead to improvements in service. At First4Lawyers, we use these reviews in a positive way, promoting high standards and in the rare circumstance where we may have fallen short, immediately taking corrective action.
It’s clearly taking time for solicitors to embrace the move to transparency, but the direction of travel is clear; transparency could be a good business development tool for firms in a very challenging operating environment. The LSB is expected to issue a further update this summer, following discussions with regulators.