By Daniel Hunter

In a new report published today (Tuesday), Chief Legal Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, says the legal profession must learn the value of clearer pricing information and good customer service or risk falling behind more marketing led companies in the long run.

The report, Costs and customer service in a changing legal services market, uses the stories of real people who came to the Ombudsman with complaints about costs to illustrate difficulties faced by consumers.

Since launching in 2010, 20-25% of the Ombudsman‟s investigations have involved issues related to cost, either where a consumer felt they had been over-charged, confused, or surprised at the costs presented to them by their lawyer.

“Good service in any sphere includes ensuring that a customer is not bamboozled, but provided with clear information about what is going to be provided and at what cost," Adam Sampson said.

“Our experience tells us that issues around the cost and pricing of legal services are a key driver for complaints in legal services.”

As well as publishing a report, the Ombudsman has produced a guide for consumers, to help them ask the right sort of questions when first enquiring, and a guide for lawyers, to help them prevent complaints or resolve them quickly if a problem arises.

Consumer interest group, Which?, welcomed the guidance.

"Too many disputes with lawyers are due to 'bill shock' but people can prevent nasty surprises in their final bill by asking the right questions," head of campaigns, Louise Hanson, said.

“This guide from the Legal Ombudsman will help anyone planning to use a legal service get the information they need to help manage the costs."

Adam Sampson added: “Some lawyers are as yet still reluctant to recognise that their clients are also customers. The notion of customer turns the traditional relationship between lawyer and client on its head.

“In most businesses, the customer holds sway and can pick and choose which services to buy from which provider. This type of relationship is increasingly the norm even in the legal sector.”

In recent years the arrival of price comparison websites has begun to swing things in consumers' favour. Likewise, larger, more consumer focussed companies are now offering fixed price services, meaning customers know exactly where they stand. The Chief Legal Ombudsman expects the rest of the profession to take heed: “Firms that fail to adapt their approach will ultimately lose customers” he said.

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