Largest ever legal needs survey in England and Wales

The largest ever survey of legal needs in England and Wales lays bare the advantages of the public understanding the legal landscape and seeking professional legal help.

Six in 10 adults (64%) experienced a legal problem in the last four years, including 53% who faced a contentious1 problem. The key findings include:

  • Modelling indicates unmet legal need – 31% of those who had a contentious legal problem which was resolved did not get help, wanted more help or their issue took longer than two years to resolve, according to experimental modelling based on OECD guidance.
  • Getting professional advice makes a difference to how outcomes are perceived – Respondents who received professional help were also more likely to feel they had a fair outcome (66% compared to 53% who didn’t receive professional help).
  • Greater legal capability increases likelihood of seeking professional help – People were more likely to seek professional help if they understood their issue was legal in nature – just 16% of people described their contentious legal issue1 as ‘legal’, with 28% describing it as ‘economic’ or ‘financial’.
  • Legal capability affects outcomes – People with low legal confidence2 have lower understanding of their rights, find it less easy to deal with their legal issue, are less likely to get professional help, are less satisfied with the service they receive and less likely to think they had a fair outcome.
  • High levels of service satisfaction with solicitors– People are most satisfied with the service they receive from solicitors (90%) compared to 74% from unregulated providers.3 84% felt their solicitor provided value for money.
  • Most people do not pay for legal advice– The majority (57%) of people who obtained professional help from a main adviser did not personally pay for it – of those 49% obtained advice through a free service, 7% were funded by an insurance company and another 7% by friends and family.
  • Low shopping around – Only 21% who received professional advice shopped around. People said they didn’t shop around because they were happy with the first service they found (33%), trust a recommendation (28%) or find the matter fairly simple (22%).
  • Many people find it difficult to search for prices – 24% reported difficulty searching for prices; 84% find it easy to obtain prices when they look for this information. People who get information about prices, when initially communicating with their main adviser, are more likely to be satisfied (94%) than those who don’t (82%).
  • Very strong support for legal aid but lack of awareness among key groups – 92% of adults believe legal aid is a good thing. 85% of people with a household income below the legal aid means test threshold did not think they were eligible for legal aid.
  • People seek legal advice for a range of reasons– The most commonly experienced legal issues relate to a defective good/service (26%), anti-social behaviour by neighbours (14%), buying or selling property (11%), making or changing a will (11%) and employment-related issues (11%)

The Legal Services Board Chair Dr Helen Phillips said:

“People often need legal services at the most important times of life, and sometimes when they are at their most vulnerable. Whether they’re buying, selling or renting property, seeking redress following a poor service, or a victim of crime, everyone should be able to access professional support if they need it.

“However, this survey reveals a significant access to justice gap. For a variety of reasons people do not always seek legal advice. Many fail to identify the issues they face as being legal in nature. They perhaps class it as a housing issue or a financial problem or put it down to bad luck. This means they then don’t seek for the right kind of help.

“Those who get legal support are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome, so it’s vital we remove barriers that prevent people accessing help. This includes building legal capability and encouraging people to shop around for services. When people understand their legal rights and responsibilities, it makes a real difference to their confidence and their ability to access justice.”

Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis commented:

“This extensive survey brings home the need to build better public understanding of legal issues and clear, accessible pathways to get professional legal advice. People need to know how to use the legal system to manage the complexities of daily life, whether that’s housing, family issues or employment.

“The findings show when people do get professional legal advice – particularly from a solicitor – they are more able to resolve legal problems effectively, and far more likely to view the justice system as fair, even if they lose their case.

“While most people resolve minor legal issues – like faulty goods or parking fines – without professional advice, it is a cornerstone of justice that everyone should be able to get professional legal advice when they need it, regardless of wealth or status.

“However, legal aid has been decimated by swingeing cuts. This survey shows near unequivocal support for legal aid but as people do not understand which issues are covered or if they are eligible, many who should have publicly funded legal advice simply will not get it.

“Our future justice system should be one that prioritises public legal education so people understand their rights, legal issues and how to access justice.

“The Law Society believes in evidence-based policy-making. We hope the results of this survey, co-commissioned with the oversight regulator the LSB, will help legal service providers and government better understand and serve the legal needs of the public.”


Notes to editors:

  • The survey was conducted for the Law Society and the Legal Services Board by YouGov. A nationally representative sample of 28,633 of the general public people gave information about 34 different types of legal issues based upon data collected online between February and March 2019. The survey was conducted online with respondents from YouGov’s panel

1 Contentious legal work relates to legal matters that take place between two or more parties, such as a court hearing or a tribunal hearing to resolve a dispute.

2 Confidence they could personally achieve a fair and positive outcome in legal scenarios.

3 Satisfaction rates vary by demographic (e.g. by age and ethnicity) and by areas of law.

4 The survey identified which, if any, organisations or individuals people handling a legal issue obtained help from. An individual’s main adviser was whom they considered to be their main source of help. Where the survey refers to main advisors which are not for profit organisations (such as law centres, Citizen’s Advice), these may engage solicitors to advise their clients.

About the Legal Services Board

The Legal Services Board (LSB) oversees regulators of legal services in England and Wales.

The LSB oversees ten approved regulators, which in turn regulate individual legal practitioners. The approved regulators, designated under Part 1 of Schedule 4 of the 2007 Act, are the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Master of the Faculties, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the Association of Costs Lawyers, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In addition, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland is an approved regulator for probate activities only but does not currently authorise anyone to offer this service.

Legal Services Board contact: Paul Nezandonyi | | 020 7271 0068 | 07884 798799

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Law Society contact: Harriet Beaumont | | 0208 049 3854 (out of hours: 020 3189 1880)

This entry was posted in News