Firms and chambers could be forced to publish how many complaints they receive

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By Legal Futures

9 January 2012

Sampson: some lawyers would be shocked at being asked to record how many clients they have

Law firms and barristers’ chambers may be forced to publish statistics on how efficiently they handle complaints internally – including how many they receive – the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has suggested.

Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson said implementing the scheme may lead to similar rules to those laid down by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), which require firms that have received a certain number of complaints to publish how many they have opened and closed, the percentage closed within eight weeks and the percentage of complaints upheld.

Lawyers too have eight weeks to resolve a complaint before the client can approach LeO.

In November the board of the Office for Legal Complaints – which oversees LeO – decided to press ahead with controversial plans to publish the names of lawyers who have been subject to an ombudsman decision, and it is now considering how this should be implemented.

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Last week LeO held a meeting with lawyers and consumer representatives to discuss this. Mr Sampson said the main stumbling block identified was the need to put the information into the context of how many cases a firm handles and how to get at information like that.

Writing on the LeO website, he said: “The regulators do not routinely collect it, and the size of a firm is not a very good way of estimating how much work it does. Even if some firms collect the information, others don’t and some lawyers, barristers being a good example, would be shocked if you asked them to.” Asking the lawyer complained about would mean LeO publishing unverified data, he added.

He continued: “This is hardly a unique a problem. When FOS began publishing complaints data, it set up an industry and consumer panel who, after a year’s work, reached a similar stalemate.

“In that case, the regulator decided to require firms to publish complaints information themselves, which provides the context for what FOS publishes. In the absence of any mechanism for getting access to the verifiable data we need, perhaps that is where we will end up.”

Mr Sampson reported that few at the meeting argued against the policy decision to publish complaints data, which “may have been helped by a clear steer from the representative from the Department of Business, Industry and Skills on the government’s commitment to opening up complaints information to public scrutiny”.

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