Almost half of law firms are now using review websites but there remains strong opposition to price comparison for legal services, a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) survey has found.
While new clients were the main reason for engaging with review website, the regulator said firms were listening and making changes to their services in response to reviews.
The research on attitudes to comparison websites for legal services forms part of the SRA’s work on developing quality indicators to help consumers choose providers, alongside the existing requirements on publishing price and service information.
Some 264 law firms on the panel of legal technology business the Access Group took part. We report separately on the SRA’s survey of 1,000 consumers. Both surveys were published with no publicity earlier in the summer.
Approaching half (44%) of firms directed clients to submit a review on a dedicated website, with Google Reviews, ReviewSolicitors and Trustpilot the most popular.
Three-quarters were satisfied with the website they used – only 3% were dissatisfied – particularly those with paid-for subscriptions, compared to those using free services.
Those who did not use these websites cited having alternative feedback systems in place, concerns about fake or negative reviews, and client confidentiality curbing their ability to respond to feedback.
The SRA report went on: “Comments mentioned the lack of oversight allowing disgruntled former clients and non-clients to post untrue reviews. Respondents also felt that firms with large marketing budgets can pay to appear in searches and have negative reviews removed, leading to an unlevel playing field.”
Half of firms (51%) received automated messages when reviews were posted and another 16% checked daily, while 20% only checked fortnightly or less often – if at all. The majority (56%) responded within one working day and 15% within two.
Nearly half (47%) routinely monitored for reviews and feedback on other websites or online platforms, such as discussion forums, with Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews, ReviewSolicitors and Trustpilot the main four.
Two-thirds of firms that used review websites did so to attract new clients and more than half to reassure clients/demonstrate provision. “More than half also identify good performance via review sites, although this is more prevalent among those with paid-for subscriptions.”
Asked to advise of something that client reviews or feedback have prompted them to change, the main themes were improved communication and encouraging reviews – “as they like receiving positive feedback”.
The report said: “Changes mentioned relating to communication and client service included: amending the frequency of client updates, providing greater clarity in certain areas, learning how to better manage client expectations and combining information so that fewer letters are required.”
A majority (55%) of firms had concerns about managing the process, with “unfair, untrue or non-client feedback as well as negative reviews based on outcome rather than service/amount of work involved” the main reasons.
While the SRA cited one respondent using a free subscription to Google Reviews that had been able to cancel negative comments posted by non-clients and opponents in litigation, “others have had difficulty removing reviews”.
The regulator said speaking to review website providers to understand how solicitors could deal with inaccurate reviews and making this information more widely available “might allay concerns in this area”.
Just one of the firms used a price comparison site to provide quotations to prospective clients. “They reported no benefit and were very dissatisfied with the website used,” the SRA said.
“Respondents explained that they do not feel price comparison sites can be used to effectively portray legal services as price is not the only important variable and each case is different making comparison difficult.
“They raised concerns that firms might use inexperienced staff to complete work to keep fees low which could result in poor service; ‘race to the bottom’ was mentioned frequently. Respondents feel it is not often possible to offer an accurate price at the outset having not meet with the client as there are many unknowns.”
The SRA said the insights from the two surveys would inform its thinking about how to provide consumers with the information they need about the quality of legal services.
The quality indicators pilot closed at the end of February and the regulator was now in the evaluation phase ahead of publishing its findings and conclusions later in the year.