Research shows room for improvement on client care letters
New research commissioned by legal regulators and the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has identified principles to help legal services providers better communicate with their clients.
Client care letters are required of all regulated professionals providing legal services.
The findings, published today, show that client care letters are often not as effective as they should be in making sure that clients understand the work that is being carried out on their behalf, or in outlining what is required of them.
Independent researchers have recommended eight key principles for preparing effective client care letters. They 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 1-2 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; and
- Consider additional opportunities to engage clients – Finally, 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 was understood.
Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, Elisabeth Davies said: “Client care letters are mostly ineffective at conveying the information consumers prioritise, such as information on cost, timescales, and basic client-relation contact details. Worryingly, the research also shows that Client Care Letters do not meet the needs of vulnerable consumers. There is an urgent need for Approved Regulators to rise to the challenge of supporting providers to deliver improved communication to consumers. We will continue to work with Approved Regulators on this agenda. The findings of this research must now inform a well-considered and targeted approach to addressing the communication needs of consumers, vulnerable consumers included.”