Lack of access to legal services

Why this risk matters

  • Our main purpose is to protect the public and support the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. A lack of access to legal services, particularly for those most in need or vulnerable, is a concern for us. Our paper, Improving access: tackling unmet legal needs, discusses this in more detail.
  • Only one in 10 people and small businesses take advice from a solicitor or barrister when they have a legal problem.
  • There are many barriers to accessing legal services from a solicitor - the main two are the affordability of the services and the lack of information about prices and quality.

Trends

  • The number of people shopping around when choosing their legal services provider has increased from 19% in 2011 to 25% in 2016.
  • The cost of legal services is important to two thirds of people choosing their provider.
  • Almost half of legal services are now provided on a fixed fee basis.
  • Many people want to do part of the legal work themselves and then have a solicitor help on a specific element. This called an unbundled service. Unbundled services have been increasingly offered since 2013.

Actions

  • Firms are innovating to improve access, including partnering with other professionals in an Alternative Business Structures.
  • Our reforms give solicitors and firms more flexibility to meet legal need. For example, solicitors will be able to freely deliver some legal services to the public outside of a regulated firm.
  • SRA Innovate is an initiative available to all existing firms and new entrants. It offers information on the types of innovation taking place in legal services, as well as information on how IT can help law firms. Through SRA Innovate, solicitors and firms can:
    • explore new ways of running their business and introduce original ideas in our Innovation Space
    • join our Innovate virtual reference group to share thoughts about how our regulation affects innovation and growth in legal services
    • attend our Innovate conferences, and view previous events in our Innovation Space
    • let us know of any ideas they have where regulation might be a barrier to innovation, as there are things we can do to help, such as applying our waivers policy.
     
  • Increasing the availability of information will make the market more transparent. For example, our law firm search tool provides accessible, free data about all firms. The Legal Choices website provides clear information to people who may have a legal problem.
  • Providing clear information about prices helps break down some of the barriers to access: firms are making prices clearer by putting them on their website and offering fixed fees to make them more affordable.

Further information