Online survey of individuals’ handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015

This research project was co funded with the Law Society of England and Wales, and undertaken by Ipsos MORI and Dr Marisol Smith.
Why is this research important?
This research provides evidence on individual consumers who have experienced a legal problem over the past three years. It provides insight into the different responses taken and the reasons why they respond in the way they do, across 29 different types of legal issue. Because of the approach taken the survey provides scale with 8,192 respondents experiencing 16,692 issues over the past 3 years. For the first time this allows in depth analysis by market segment. All relevant material can be found here:

What new information did this research provide?
This research shows that:

  • There continues to be widespread experience of legal issues: Just over half (54%) of individuals screened online experienced one of 29 legal issues in the 2012 -2015 period. The most commonly experienced issues were consumer issues (33% amongst those experiencing an issue), and buying or selling a house (21%).
  • Individuals adopt different strategies in responding these legal issues: Analysis of the survey data predicts that the probability of adopting the respective strategies for the ‘average’ person in the survey would be 14% ‘do nothing’, 57% handle alone or with informal help, 10% advice from a ‘legal professional’, 5% advice sector advice and 13% ‘other advice’.
  • Strategies vary by the type of issue, characterisation of an issue as legal, issue severity, knowledge of rights, qualifications, age, family type, ethnicity, housing tenure and income.  No statistically significant relationship was found between handling strategy and employment status or legal aid. As respondent perceptions of issue severity increased, they were more likely to get advice, and less likely to do nothing.
  • Awareness of providers of legal services varied as did prior experience and knowledge about the availability of legal aid for particular issues. Around a fifth of respondents had never previously used any form of legal services provision. For example, 47% of all respondents in the survey sample did not know that legal aid was available for issues of domestic violence – including 34% of those who had experienced a domestic abuse issue.
  • No action was taken in respect of 13% of issues.  Inaction for one in twenty issues was explained by respondents’ fear of costs, but again in a substantial minority of these issues, respondents did nothing to inform themselves of potential costs.
  • Almost half (46%) of all issues were handled by respondents themselves or with help from friends of family. Almost one in ten issues were handled alone because of the fear that doing otherwise would cost too much, either the cost of an advisor’s service or the cost of court fees
  • Three in ten issues were handled using advice and support. Across these issues, 56% of them were dealt with using a legal professional[1], 28% using an advice agency, a third 35% using another person or organisation (e.g. an insurance company), 22% via their local council and six percent using a trade union or professional body.
  • Choice of provider was mainly driven by prior direct experience of using a provider, followed by an internet search, recommendations from a friend or relative, knowledge of the provider without personally using them, and a referral.
  • Important reasons for using a solicitor included knowing that solicitors could help with an issue (36%) and a need for the advice a solicitor could offer (30%). Reasons for not using a solicitor include the assumption that it would be too expensive for almost 30% of issues. For example, in a third (33%) of domestic violence issues where a respondent had not considered or used a solicitor the assumption that it would be too expensive was a factor.
  • There are high levels of satisfaction with advice, in over three-quarters (78%) of cases respondents were satisfied with the quality of the advice. Where respondents were dissatisfied they generally did not appear to take action as a result of dissatisfaction with nothing being done in two-fifths of such issues, although in 21% of issues they raised concerns with the service provider but did not make a formal complaint.

How are we going to use this research?
We will use this survey as part of our market evaluation exercise to understand how the legal services market is changing since the introduction of the Legal Services Act. Specifically we will undertake our own analysis of the survey data to look at how people’s responses to legal problems is changing over time – a key part of measuring whether the regulatory objective of improved access to justice is being delivered or not.
We will also use the report as part of our assessment of the scale of the unregulated legal sector, and to provide us and the regulatory community with information on consumers’ experiences of interacting with the regulators. We encourage those with an interest in improving the experience of legal services for individual consumers to review the report and undertake their own analysis of the survey data – freely available online.

[1] Legal professionals were defined as one of the following: solicitor, barrister, licensed conveyancer, notary, trade mark attorney, patent attorney, costs Lawyer, other Lawyer, employment adviser, immigration adviser, probate practitioner, and legal executive.