People often purchase legal services at times of stress.
Therefore, no matter how experienced a consumer may be, their individual characteristics can make them vulnerable. A range of individual factors, including physical and mental ability, language skills, financial constraints, or other personal situations, can directly contribute to a consumer being at risk of disadvantage. Added to that, the particular features of the legal services market, such as barriers to access and difficulty judging quality, can put people at risk.
If regulators, and consequently legal service providers, cannot understand and respond appropriately, then people may not access the legal services they need.
The Panel therefore developed a guide which regulators can use to address vulnerability. The guide is based on the British Standard BS18477 on Inclusive Service Provision, which we have translated into a legal services setting. It forms a companion piece to the Panel’s toolkit on the Consumer Principles, particularly expanding on the principles of access and fairness, and can be found below.
Historically, the Panel has also worked to address a lack of data on how different circumstances can affect access to legal services. We teamed up with different organisations to explore the experiences of consumers.
The first study focused on consumers with hearing loss and the Consumer Panel partnered with Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. In October 2011, the Deaf Studies Trust was commissioned to undertake the research and the report, Legal Choices – Silent Process, can be found below.
In autumn 2012 the Panel carried out a review of the processes followed by asylum seekers in the UK and identified a need for further research. The research raised concerns in two areas: access to legal advice and quality of legal advice. The Panel advised the approved regulators to carry out further research in these areas to gather comprehensive and up-to-date information, and identify how problems or gaps found might best be tackled.
In July 2013 we worked in collaboration with the Legal Services Board and Mencap, to publish research into the needs of legal services consumers with learning disabilities. This was carried out by the Norah Fry Research Centre (part of the University of Bristol). The study found that a lack of experience in dealing with people with learning disabilities means lawyers may struggle to provide this vulnerable client group with the specialist support they need. We produced a full report, an Easy Read version and a short film which explains the main findings.