Lack of access to legal services

Why this risk matters

  • Access to justice is one of the eight regulatory objectives set out in s1 of the Legal Services Act 2007, and access to good quality legal services is a crucial part of this. We will take this into account when delivering our regulation.
  • People who get independent advice about their legal problems are more satisfied with the outcome than those who do not. However, many people still do not get the legal help they need.
  • Only one in ten people with a legal problem seek advice from a solicitor or barrister. There is no one barrier to accessing legal services but affordability and the perception of high costs is a major one:
    • 63% of people do not believe that professional legal advice is affordable for ordinary people
    • 83% of small businesses see legal services as unaffordable
  • Other barriers can include:
    • lack of local provision
    • lack of information to help people compare providers
    • feeling a problem is too complicated and will never be resolved
    • lack of trust in professional advice
  • We know that regulation costs time and money. These costs are ultimately passed to the public, so we need to make sure that our rules and regulations are proportionate and targeted.
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I want us to help address the problem of access to justice - the widespread unmet need of the public and small businesses. People want affordable and relevant services.”

Enid Rowlands, Chair, SRA Board

  • We are reforming our regulation to ensure solicitors have the flexibility to meet legal need. So far, we have changed our approach to separate businesses, allowing solicitors to own any kind of legal business. We have also made our processes for approving firms simpler and quicker.
  • We will continue reforming our regulation. Our consultation Looking to the future opened in June and closed in September 2016. Proposals include:
    • opening up opportunities for all solicitors to freely deliver services to the public outside of a regulated 'firm'
    • a shorter code of conduct and more concise set of principles
    • reformed accounts rules, which will remove unnecessary prescription and allow more flexibility.
  • Empowering the public to make good choices is also a key part of breaking down some of the barriers to access. We work with other legal regulators on Legal Choices, a website offering information and guidance for people who think they might need a lawyer. And our law firm search allows consumers to check whether a law firm is regulated by us. But we believe more should be done.
  • We have launched a discussion paper about what kind of data we should publish to help the public make good choices when purchasing legal services. The evidence shows that a lack of clear information makes it difficult for people to make informed choices. Increased transparency could help create a more competitive market, where members of the public and small businesses can make better choices and where client-focused firms can thrive.
  • We will be conducting research this year on the transparency of legal costs.

    This will help to:

    • identify how many firms advertise their costs and in what way
    • the benefits and risks around using estimated quotes or fixed fees
    • understand how comparison sites can help consumer choice.

Further information

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