Client-care letters reinforce negative perceptions of legal services, study finds

11 November, 2016

Client-care letters (CCLs) are reinforcing the negative preconception that lawyers’ letters are complex and difficult to read, new research has found.

Commissioned by the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), the report touched upon eight key principles to improve CCLs, and criticised others.

The study found that the language used by legal services providers and the methods of communication used are a “major barrier” to individuals understanding and engaging with legal services.

“Within this study, we found that communications offered the most tangible example of an uneven relationship between legal services providers and their consumers,” read the report.

Examples include legal services being ‘demanding’ in setting clear deadlines for consumers to provide information, despite often proving to be non-committal in setting deadlines for themselves, or at worst, failing to meet their own deadlines.

The report also found that legal services which use unfamiliar and complex language were sometimes construed by consumers as an attempt to ‘put the provider on a pedestal’.

Meanwhile, some communications were also thought to have reinforced a perceived lack of empathy in the industry.

“That said, perceptions of legal services providers were not always negative, and again communications played a key role in determining higher satisfaction levels,” the report added.

The report finished with eight key principles that should be used to encourage engagement with CCLs and the information provided within them. These are:

Show a clear purpose – Provide the purpose of the letter and the importance of reading it, upfront.

Keep it concise – Recognise that the ideal length is one to two pages. If this is not feasible, use short sentences, bullet points and headings to break the information up.

Put it in plain English – Avoid using legal terms, archaic or complex language. Minimise the use of vague and / or heavily caveated sentences.

Prioritise information – Focus on the information which is perceived to be most relevant to the consumer and ensure a logical flow.

Personalise information – Provide details on the consumer’s specific case, for example their estimated costs and not general estimated costs. Tailor the letter so that irrelevant information is excluded. Use personal pronouns so it is clear you are talking to the individual.

Make it easy to read – Use line spacing and a large font size (minimum size 12). Use headings to make the letter easy to navigate and avoid dense paragraphs.

Highlight key information – Use visual tools such as bold text, headers, summary boxes, tables or diagrams, to make it easier for consumers to pick out key points.

Consider additional opportunities to engage clients – While there should be a clear reference to the complaints procedure in the client-care letters, consider whether more detailed coverage is better delivered in separate leaflets; or whether reminders could be sent later on in the legal process, to ensure that this information is understood.

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