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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alberta Law Society Polls on Legal Services Quality and Value for Money

This is not my usual blog post stuff but as a lawyer I found it interesting! Looks like the days of lawyer jokes are pretty much past when you see recent Law Society of Alberta survey results. This blog post is just a repeat of the summary of findings I received as a member of the Law Society of Alberta. The actual poll results will be out tomorrow and available at http://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/.  I hope that brings more clarity to the findings and afford an opportunty for some more indepth conclusions.


It has been an axiom for a long time that people do not like lawyers but they like their lawyer. This survey seems to address the last half of this question but not the first part so much. Here are some findings that Rod Jerke QC, the President of the Law Society says, “…show(s) that the public is generally satisfied with the service and value they receive.”

The Law Society notes the relationship between the delivery of legal services and the regulation and governance of the legal profession. This poll is said to “give valuable insight on the reputation of the legal profession and the high levels of satisfaction experienced by consumers of legal services.” ON the down side the survey showed “consumers” were concerned about availability of legal services to low income Albertans and the “perception of the costs of legal service.”

Next step is to survey lawyers but it is not clear how that will relate to the consumer survey. I have to say I find it strange to be referring to clients as consumers but many legal services have become commodities so I guess it makes sense. I also hope the actual survey breaks down the results in terms of types of legal services and geographically. Are divorce “consumers” at the same satisfaction levels as real estate “consumer?” I am curious to see if there is any difference between rural and urban and/or Edmonton and Calgary perceptions.

So here is a smattering of the poll results. There are 78% very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the legal service provided. I wonder what values were attributed by the public to their being very or somewhat satisfied. Is somewhat satisfied less than 5 but more than 1 on a 10 point scale?

As for value for money spent on lawyers only 34% who were polled say they received “very good value.” Then some 37% said they received “somewhat good value.” What does somewhat mean and what values were used to determine that answer?

How do you find a lawyer? This area has some more value based substance to it. Referral from another person – which means word of mouth, was the key factor for 41% of poll participants. Reputation was important to 43 % but what values and factors constitute reputation? Glad you asked! Here is where we got some useful information about what guide and drives lawyer selection. Legal training and professional credentials worked for 30%. Standing, whatever that means other than being subject to the Code of Ethics was crucial for 26%. Personal knowledge and relationship with a lawyer drove 25% while cost and proximity/access issues drove hiring decisions for 23%.

I applaud the Law Society for doing research on public perceptions on various aspects of legal services. But opinion polls are not of much value in figuring what really guide and drives the public’s state of mind in reaching such decisions. They are better than focus groups but not much better. The more effective way is to use discrete choice modeling or conjoint techniques to force participants to make trade off and choices between various values that they use to measure what is important to them about legal services.

I need to know more about the actual survey questions and methodology before I can comment further. Opinion polls are becoming notoriously inaccurate and when terms like “somewhat satisfied” is so vague that it is dangerous to attribute too much positive or negative results to those responses.

There is no doubt some useful information here for lawyers but it is far from being conclusive evidence to make sound a judgement and draw a decisive conclusion about what the consuming public thinks about the quality of legal service and the value for money received.