Helping Legal Services Consumers Make Better Decisions 2014

The LSB commissioned Professor John Maule and Linstock Communications to undertake an assessment of the most effective methods of supporting consumers to identify and respond to legal problems.

Why did we undertake this research?
Under Section 28 of the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA), Parliament gives all the approved regulators[1] the Legal Ombudsman, and the LSB the regulatory objective of increasing public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties.  There is a duty on all to act as far as is reasonably practical in accordance with this objective.  This research is designed to assist the approved regulators in taking forward this objective.

What new information did this research provide?

The research provides systematic assessment of the different tools available to help people make better decisions about legal problems.  It also considers whether these tools can be used to support legal services consumers.   It utilises the findings of a literature review and a number of interviews with legal academics / practitioners. It also draws on experiences from the finance and health sectors. This is the first time this range of information has been collated and assessed with regards to the legal sector.

The research compares the effectiveness of two broad approaches to decision making support: just in time and just in case.

Just in time interventions have been generally successful in the health and medical domain with the interventions typically leading to higher levels of knowledge about the situation and the options available, a better understanding of the outcome uncertainties and a greater tendency for users to incorporate their own values into the decision (rather than those of the professionals involved such as doctors).  Additionally, those using a ‘just in time’ tool felt more informed and experienced less decisional conflict.  However, these interventions are underpinned by detailed medical knowledge specifying the precise action to be taken in a particular situation – this is less likely to be the case in legal situations.

Research on ‘just in time’ interventions for consumers shows that passive interventions which simply provide evaluative information, and active interventions where options are provided once the decision maker expresses their values and priorities, are often effective.  However, this work identifies two potential pitfalls that legal services interventions need to address:
–        consumers are often reluctant to use a tool when it cannot easily be integrated into their normal pattern of buying behaviour, and
–        consumers often have mistrust about the motives underlying the intervention i.e. whether it is serving the interests of those providing the tool rather than theirs.

A just in case approach involves educating people about events that they may encounter in the future so that they are more prepared to make an informed decision if and when these events occur.

In health, finance, and law the review indicates that measures taken at the end of such an intervention indicate some benefits in terms of increased knowledge of the domain and the options that are available to solve problems.

However, there is little evidence to suggest that these interventions actually change future decision making i.e. later when participants have the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained.
Overall, the research shows that ‘just in time’ interventions have the potential to support legal services consumers, though it will be necessary to develop, test and evaluate these techniques before they can be made widely available to consumers.

How are we going to use this research?

This research provides new impetus for the delivery of the regulatory objective of increasing public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties.
We held a research briefing event, to highlight the findings of this and related work.
We will discuss the findings of this work over the coming months, as we seek to improve approaches to the delivery of this objective by the regulatory community as a whole.


[1] Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board, ILEX Professional Standards, Council for Licensed Conveyancers, Intellectual Property Regulation  Board, Master of Faculties, and the Costs Lawyer Standards Board