The Legal Services Board (LSB) has commissioned new research exploring the problems faced by vulnerable consumers that need and use legal services. The research report, entitled “Vulnerability in legal services” also highlights the fact that the way lawyers engage with consumers can either increase or reduce their vulnerability.
The research shows that, whilst navigating the legal system can be difficult for anyone, those with particular circumstances and/or characteristics may find it particularly challenging. These include those subject to poverty/low income, those with disabilities, low literacy or digital exclusion, and those who have suffered domestic abuse. The research highlights that vulnerability can affect a person’s ability to feel in control of their situation. It can also lead to stress and anxiety, which – as well as being a negative impact in itself – further reduces their ability to deal with their legal issues successfully. Those who are vulnerable are especially susceptible to harm and loss if their needs are not recognised and met by legal professionals.
The research provides positive examples of practices that have been identified as helping clients understand legal processes and terms. These can include ensuring that costs are transparent, providing clarity on timeframes, and actively listening to consumers to understand their circumstances with empathy and compassion. It concludes also that consumers value being kept informed on the progress of their case, including receiving responses to queries promptly. This helped to reduce their clients’ anxiety and increase their sense of control and agency.
Those who took part in the research suggested improvements to the system, which point to:
- A need for greater consistency and standardisation in how legal services are delivered;
- Adopting an inclusive design approach, whereby services are designed with the most vulnerable in mind to benefit everyone. This approach can help to ensure that whenever someone uses legal services:
- They feel heard and understood;
- They can understand the legal implications of their issues, the language and terms used, and what is happening with their case;
- They can exercise informed choice and feel in control of how their legal issue is managed.
Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, said:
‘Many people can be inherently vulnerable when going to a legal professional. Perhaps because they’re a victim of crime, going through a relationship breakdown, or selling a house. This can be compounded by their personal circumstances – including having a low income, disability, low literacy or suffered abuse. So, it is vital that legal services are designed and delivered with these vulnerabilities in mind. When that happens, everyone benefits.
‘So, we urge regulators, legal services providers, and others to develop their understanding of vulnerability and consider how they can support the development of inclusive services that meet the needs of everyone.’
The LSB has also published a report identifying groups of people by their levels of legal need (pdf) and likelihood to use professional advice. It is based on an analysis of the LSB’s individual legal needs survey and sets out clusters based on demographics and legal capabilities.