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This post was first published in June 2015.

I’m a little bit late in posting about this, but it seemed worth saying something about the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s most recent report – the snappily titled “Comparing Methods of Service Delivery: A Case Study on Divorce” – in light of the most recent Family Court Statistics (which I will write about in part 2).

The LSCP report studied the experiences of 184 people after and (in some cases) during the divorce process.  98 of those people took more traditional “face-to-face” advice and the remaining 86 got divorced using online divorce providers.

The LSCP are quick to acknowledge that the sample size is small and that care needs to be taken in relying on these samples for drawing conclusions about the divorcing population as a whole.  Everything that follows needs to be read with that warning in mind.  Despite that, there are some extremely interesting, and in some cases unexpected, findings that legal service providers should be slow to ignore.

The key take away point, as publicised at that time, was that levels of satisfaction was as high amongst users of online divorce services (83%) as those of face-to-face services (79%).  There are many other gems buried away in the report, however, that I think are worthy of reflection, including the following:

Users of face-to-face and online services are not that different…

  • Pre-divorce household income was not significantly different between face-to-face (£45,000) and online users (£41,000)
  • The number one question for users at the beginning of either process was “what’s involved in the process”

But the users of online divorce services may not be who we expected…

  • 14% of online petitioners did not describe their divorce as amicable
  • 33% of online petitioners reported that there had been domestic violence during the marriage
  • Users of online services are, on average, more risk averse than users of face-to-face services
  • 22% of online users reported that the chief income earner in their household was in a higher managerial/professional/administrative role, compared with 17% face-to-face users

The internet provides a rich opportunity to market to potential clients…

  • Regardless of which route they ended up taking, 48% sought legal advice online at some stage during the process
  • Only 15% of those surveyed approached a ‘personal lawyer’, less even than the ‘local high street lawyer’ (18%)
  • 44% of face-to-face users found their adviser through recommendations, but 26% found picked their adviser as the result of an internet search

But there’s a limited time window in which to reach them…

  • The median time spent preparing for divorce prior to filing the petition was 7 weeks for online providers and 15 weeks for face-to-face advisers

Fees are surprisingly unimportant when it comes to choosing a face-to-face adviser…

  • Cost of advice was the principal reason for picking a face-to-face adviser for just 6% of users. For online providers the figure was 31%

The trend may be firmly in favour of online divorce…

  • 12% of face-to-face users had been divorced before, compared to 24% of online users
  • Users of online services are three times as likely to recommend their provider than users of a face-to-face provider

And given that one criticism of online divorce providers is that they don’t adequately cover financial issues, some solicitors need to up their game…

  • Only 74% of those using face-to-face providers reported agreeing a financial settlement(!) – not significantly different from the 69% of online users