Impact of Covid-19 on legal services – Data bulletin June 2020


Introduction

Covid-19 is having a profound impact on the demand for and provision of legal services. Consumer demand is soaring in some areas and falling in others, while organisations that consumers rely on for legal advice are facing new challenges to their ability to continue to provide these services.

The Legal Services Board has brought multiple sources of data together to help increase understanding within the sector of the consequences of Covid-19, so that providers and regulators can seek to mitigate negative impacts and identify opportunities. The Covid-19 dashboard provides a holistic picture across a range of legal services. This is an ongoing project and more metrics will be added.

The dashboard shows the impact of the pandemic over time and enables comparisons to be made with data collected before the crisis. We have drawn data from 11 organisations and bodies that includes both publicly available data and data we have obtained directly.

We are committed to monitoring the impact ofCcovid-19 not only through the recovery phase, but in the subsequent months, as a ‘new normal’ is established. We want to ensure that as the sector recovers, the interests of consumers are at the forefront of everyone’s minds and opportunities are taken to reshape legal services to better meets the needs of society.

We are grateful to Citizens Advice, Step Change, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and Claims Portal Limited, LawCare, the Office of the Public Guardian, the Land Registry, the Single Online Home National Digital Team, the Office for National Statistics, Department for Work and Pensions and Ministry of Justice for directly providing or publishing data to inform our dashboard.

Key Findings

We have obtained a significant amount of data related to demand for legal services. The most up to date data available is from April and May 2020. From the data collected so far, we observe the significant initial impact that Covid-19 has had on several areas including:

Employment

  • 67% more employment issues were brought to Citizens Advice in May 2020 compared to a year before, representing an increase of over 14,000 to reach 35,914.
  • The number of employment tribunal receipts remains steady (at 3,996 in April) but is likely to be an indicator to watch as furlough arrangements begin to taper.

Conveyancing

  • Conveyancing applications to the Land Registry dropped to 58,676 in April 2020 (an 84% decrease from 374,665 in April 2019).
  • According to survey data collected by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, furlough arrangements appear, so far, to have protected many conveyancing providers in the short-term.

Powers of attorney, death and probate

  • The number of power of attorney registrations with the Office of the Public Guardian has declined dramatically since March 2020, dropping in April 2020 to a level 37% lower than in April 2019 (from 67,733 to 42,882). This may reflect a reduced capacity to draft and submit a registration as much as demand. The drop poses an issue for consumers whose ability to make use of powers of attorney will be delayed.
  • Sadly, the number of deaths is considerably higher, doubling from April 2019 (44,003) to April 2020 (88,049) – this has led to an increased demand for probate and estate administration.

The courts

  • The number of outstanding Crown court cases has increased by 20% from April 2019 (33,670) to April 2020 (40,459). In Magistrates’ courts the number has increased by 30% (from 301,046 to 391,615). (Data for civil courts are not available.)
  • The significant backlog of court cases had already reached 39,218 in Crown courts and 318,006 in Magistrates courts by February 2020. It is therefore clear that while the problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic it was not caused by it.

Next steps

The data presented in the dashboard so far only provides some of the picture as most data is focused on the consumer side, or demand for legal services. To understand the full impact of the pandemic on the ability of the sector to meet consumer demand both in the short and long term we need to obtain further data on the supply side.

In terms of the supply side, we are aware of the results of several surveys that have been undertaken within the sector that set out concerns related to the future supply of legal services. For example, the Bar Council survey results indicated that 71% of barristers with up to seven years in practice cannot survive six months without further financial support. The Law Society’s survey of smaller firms showed that 71% of high-street firms believed they may have to close within six months. The indications are concerning and suggest that there are risks to legal aid practitioners, junior members of the profession and sole practitioners amongst others. In the absence of hard data, we want to understand how these concerns are translating into actual reductions in supply and departures from the sector. To this end, we will be working with regulators to obtain relevant data such as data on the number of providers in difficulty and evidence of providers leaving the market. We are seeking data on take up of furlough in the legal sector.

We are also monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on diversity within the profession and on access to justice closely. We share concerns already voiced by Business in the Community and the Mayor of London about BAME groups being disproportionately affected by furlough. We also know that Covid-19 is hitting BAME communities harder and this may translate into an increased need for legal advice and support.

As the sector recovers from the pandemic, diversity will continue to be a key area of focus to ensure that legal services reflect the society they serve and that everybody who needs legal help and support can access it. Data on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion will be a key focus for our State of the Legal Services Sector report, which we will be publishing in the Autumn.

If you have data, evidence or insights to share, please contact us: research@legalservicesboard.org.uk