Barristers seek carve-outs from telling clients about complaints procedures

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By Legal Futures

29 September 2010


Cell: the best place to provide complaints-handling information?

Barristers need some carve-outs from the requirements to tell clients about their complaints procedure, the Legal Services Board (LSB) is to be told.

New rules coming into force from 6 October, when the Legal Ombudsman goes live, mean that all lawyers must notify new clients in writing at the time of engagement, or existing clients “at the next appropriate opportunity”, of their right to make a complaint, including to the ombudsman at the conclusion of the in-house process.

Speaking at the recent Bar Standards Board (BSB) meeting, Charles Hollander QC – chairman of the board’s standards committee – suggested that the difficulties this could cause barristers in some circumstances were the result of the LSB officials who drafted it not understanding the realities of barristers’ practice.

Mr Hollander pointed out that barristers often do not meet their clients – board member Sam Stein QC added that sometimes they never even learn the name of the client if just providing advice. Mr Hollander also said it would be strange if the first thing a barrister had to do when meeting a client in a police cell was to give them a copy of their complaints procedure.

However, as the wording of the provisions is “innocuous”, there may be ways around them, such as the solicitor providing the information on the barrister’s behalf.

Mr Stein, who chairs the quality assurance committee, said the BSB planned to make proposals to the LSB that would clarify the situation.

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We all know that nothing in life is certain. As the actor, director and philosopher Clint Eastwood once said: “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” He also said he’d tried being reasonable and didn’t like it. They should teach this kind of philosophy in law school. One thing in life is reasonably certain though. If you’re a law firm worth your salt, at some point you will be approached by another entity (most probably a work introducer) with a whizzy idea to ‘partner’ with you to ‘help you accelerate your growth’. In commercial speak this means, ‘we’d like to keep feeding you work but we’d also like to share in your profits’. The arrangement may be pitched to you as a joint venture – a win-win no less.

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