The Costs Lawyer Standards Board has just issued a new client survey form. Costs Lawyers are asked to print and issue to clients: “(i) Now for current clients; (ii) With your client care letter for new clients going forward; (iii) Once an instruction has completed (by way of reminder)”.
A copy of the form can be found: here.
Matters do not get off to a very good start as the form asks clients to complete and post back to the CLSB. There appears to be no option to complete online and there is no Freepost address, meaning clients must pay the postage in addition to their own lost time completing the form. The majority of Costs Lawyers’ clients will be other lawyers who are notoriously rubbish at completing surveys in any event (see, for example, the difficulties trying to obtain data for hourly rates). I suspect the feedback rate would struggle to hit 1% simply on the back of the response method. (At least the CLSB has not asked Costs Lawyers to provide a stamped addressed envelope with each form.)
A slightly higher response rate may be obtained from clients in relation to solicitor/own client disputes (although the form does not ask the client to identify the nature of the instructions).
Admittedly, the form itself is not overly onerous but will still take some minutes to complete. A number of questions require cross-referencing with the original client care letter. Most busy lawyers would not bother to complete the form for this reason alone. (And no prize on offer for those who do.)
It appears to be envisaged that this form will be sent with each set of instructions received, rather than once to each client. I have some clients who send 100s of new cases each year. There is obviously 0% prospect they will complete the form at the conclusion of each case and then post 100s of forms to the CLSB (at their own expense). Being optimistic, it is possible a client who instructs us in 100s of cases each year might complete the form once. This is probably as likely as a client who sends us one case each year. The form includes questions relating to client satisfaction. It is therefore likely that any conclusions drawn from responses received by the CLSB will give equal weight to the single response from the client who sends 100s of instructions (and will presumably be happy with the service received) as the client who sends but one instruction. 100s of cases handled well will count for no more than one case handled badly.
The main problem, of course, with this type of survey is the driver that may persuade some clients to complete this form: dissatisfaction. The unhappy client is much more likely to complete the form that the happy client who continues to send repeat instructions. Unfortunately, there is no way for the CLSB to know whether the responses are in any way typical of the service being provided.
The CLSB will try to draw conclusions from self-selecting respondents based, almost certainly, on a response rate of dramatically less than 1%.
In one sense, the CLSB has no choice but to issue these surveys. They are under a duty to investigate the Costs Lawyer profession and try to understand whether clients are receiving a good service. It is not obvious that there is good alternative to this type of survey. I just hope that if, and when, any analysis is published based on these forms that the number of completed forms is clearly identified and an attempt is made to calculate the rough proportion of work undertaken by Costs Lawyers this represents.
Sometimes no survey at all may be better than one that produces misleading conclusions.