Guest post: The CMA study should be a case for progression – not a question of who is right or who is wrong

Following the announcement by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that is has launched a study into legal services in England and Wales, to see if they are working well for consumers and small businesses, Matthew Briggs, founder of the legal comparison website The Law Superstore, urges the profession to embrace the CMA study and see it as an opportunity to evolve the way in which it presents itself.

In the short time since the CMA announcement was made I’ve read a lot about the perceived shortcomings of the legal industry and plenty of counter-arguments citing a ‘witch hunt’ aimed at a profession undeserving of its notoriety.

Based on the headlines, it’s hardly surprising that there has been some resentment towards the CMA, but this is largely because many have assumed a damning conclusion before its research has even been undertaken.

Defenders of the existing system are quick to point out that 2015 has been a strong year for the sector – both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. It is hard to argue with this and the legal profession unquestionably has much to be proud of.

But when has success ever been an excuse to rest on one’s laurels? The CMA’s market study plans to examine three keys issues: whether customers can drive effective competition by making informed purchasing decisions; whether customers are adequately protected from potential harm or can obtain satisfactory redress if legal services go wrong; and how regulation and the regulatory framework impact on competition for the supply of legal services. For progressive, forward-thinking legal service providers, I believe these three key aims of the CMA research should hold no fear.

The focus of the research will be on individuals and small businesses – an area which we know from the Legal Services Board’s own research currently represents an “Access Gap” running into several billion pounds a year.

To me, this certainly sounds like an opportunity more than a threat to firms. Can the profession really afford to dismiss the idea that there are changes to be made and fine tuning to be done?

I know that many in the profession believe that the CMA is barking up the wrong tree and whilst I agree wholeheartedly that legal service providers offer no less choice than many other industries – energy, communications, insurance, etc – the fact is that for laymen it is currently much harder to compare and contrast.

There is undoubtedly resistance against commoditizing legal services, but with a profession which believes it is being unfairly criticized and scrutinized, it has never been more important to make selection easier for the potential buyer.

Why? Because like it or not the legal profession is in the business of selling a service. And if they don’t do it successfully, people will take their money elsewhere.

The days where a profession could dictate how to present their wares has gone. Instead, we now live in a world where digital disruption has taken hold and where too many other industries have proven the benefits of evolving to become intensely customer-focused.

Pandora’s Box has been opened and it is impossible to turn our back on a digital space where insurance, energy, holidays and takeaways offer genuine convenience, immediacy and transparency.

It is for this reason that we at The Law Superstore believe the challenge is now to put legal services on a platter for customers – enabling them to make buying decisions in the way that best suits them.

I also hasten to add that genuine online comparison can actually benefit service providers every bit as much as customers; bypassing the traditional triage process that historically costs both provider and customer time, money and resources.

My hope is not that the CMA’s research is, or is perceived to be, a war on the legal profession but instead a frank appraisal of a successful industry that needs to evolve to meet changing consumer demands.