Why is this research important?
This is the third wave of research on the prices of legal services commonly purchased by individual consumers based in England and Wales. The survey focuses on three areas of law: conveyancing, divorce and wills, trusts and probate.
The first wave, conducted in 2015 found significant variation in prices and that firms who display prices on their website are generally cheaper. It was a key piece of evidence in the Competition and Markets Authority’s market study, which suggested limited competition in the sector and that the legal sector was not working well for individual consumers and small businesses.
The second wave of the research conducted in 2017 found a similar picture to 2015, with wide variation in prices, the same level of price transparency and a similar proportion of firms increasing prices.
This third wave of the research was conducted in December 2019 to March 2020, after new price transparency rules came in effect from January 2019. In total we collected 1.500 responses split across the three blocks. There are quotas to ensure responses are spread across different provider types, as well as geographically. This work was a joint project between the LSB, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Minister of Justice. The survey also included new questions designed to explore the likely effect of HM Courts and Tribunals Service reforms to online divorce and online probate on prices in these areas.
The report and supporting outputs can be found below:
What new information did this research provide?
This research shows that:
- The research found a wide dispersion of prices. However, we found no consistent pattern on the spread of prices, as was the case in the 2017 and 2015 waves of this research.
- Price transparency has improved in general, in 2020 there were 40% more providers displaying prices on their websites compared to 2017. However, providers who published prices on their website were no cheaper than those who did not.
- There are more indications of price increases than decreases since 2017: the average inflation-adjusted mean prices increased in eight scenarios and did not significantly change in the other seven, while average median prices increased in 12 scenarios, decreased in two and did not change significantly in the other scenario.
- The region where the provider is located accounts for much of the variation in prices. Firms based in the North of England were 20% cheaper than firms based elsewhere, and firms in Wales were 27% cheaper.
- Providers who offered fixed prices were on average 35% cheaper than those using estimates.
- While we found no overall link between provider size and price, one-person providers were on average 33% cheaper than larger providers.
How are we going to use this research?
We will use the insights from this third wave to monitor the impact of the rules implemented in December 2018. We will also use it to help assess if any further changes are needed.