Major government research by the Ministry of Justice has found that only 10% of people seek advice from a solicitor when they have a legal problem and this is only after they have sought advice from elsewhere first.
The Legal Problem Resolution Survey was conducted between November 2014 and March 2015 and was designed to produce data on legal problems and the methods that people use to resolve them. Some 10,058 people were surveyed during the process.
Almost a third of adults (32%) reported experiencing legal problems of varying natures and degrees over the previous 18 months. Those included problems relating to the purchase of goods and services, the anti-social behaviour of neighbours (nuisance) and money problems. Those most at risk of experiencing legal problems are single parents, the unemployed, those with long-term disabilities and those on means-tested state benefits.
Considering those who may be more likely to seek legal advice, 45-64 year olds in employment and home-owners came out on top. In addition, the survey continued that:
“the likelihood of obtaining formal legal help also increased with household income, being 17% for those in a household with an income of £60,000 or more per year and 7% for those in a household with an income of less than £15,000 per year.”
Nevertheless, the survey reported that “most problems are dealt with without the use of any legal or formal resolution processes or legal advice”, whilst it was discovered that an astonishing 45% of people will have experienced adverse consequences as a result of not seeking professional legal advice.
Therein, many people sought to find information from non-legal professional advisors or conducting their own research and attempting to resolve the disputes themselves. However, only 39% of those sought other professional legal advice. Within this figure, only 10% sought the advice of a solicitor, closely followed by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a local council advice service, a trade union, an insurance company legal advice service, and local police. Breathtakingly, just 1% of those with problems turned to a barrister. Some of the primary reasons people gave for not obtaining help from a solicitor or barrister were that they did not need help or knew enough themselves (28%), the problem was not important enough (22%), the problem resolved without the need for advice (20%), and cost (16%), and a third of people who had a family law grievance cited cost as the major reason for seeking to deviate from the conventional legal advice route.
Many of the people who did seek legal help used more than one organisation. This is compounded by the survey whereby it was reported “that generally adults do not approach solicitors for legal advice initially, but seek other sources first” – particularly Citizens Advice and their insurance company. However, when the advice of a solicitor was sought, it was usually for accidents or medical negligence claims, family law, residential conveyancing and money issues. Information from other providers was more desirable when the legal problem involved purchasing goods and services, anti-social neighbours, personal debt, rented accommodation, employment and state benefits.
Despite the clear suggestion that people tend to not want to take their legal issues as far as instructing a solicitor or barrister to deal with them, those who have done so have reported back with some satisfying results. In respect of quality of service, solicitors and barristers triumphed over other providers with 69% of people saying their lawyer had helped to resolve or reduce the problem, while 30% said they made no difference, 1% said they made it worse, and 91% said they were very or quite satisfied with the advice provided.
In conclusion, the survey provided that:
“Overall, the findings suggest that adults vulnerable to disadvantage are more likely to experience problems, and so could benefit from some targeted support. More work is however needed to explore what support would be most useful…
“Being able to access and understand information about possible options will influence how people try to resolve their legal problems. Individual capability and confidence are also important, with some people able to fully understand the available resolution options, and therefore either handle their problems using only self-help sources or know what kind of professional help would be suitable and know when and how to access it.
“Conversely, others with lower levels of legal capability and confidence may be discouraged from trying to resolve their problem if they are unable to access or understand relevant information, advice or help.”
Maybe it is time to consider implementing another legal advice service which employs individuals who are as skilled and almost as qualified as solicitors as barristers but which boasts a friendlier and less intimidating atmosphere, as well as being cheaper.