Law firms will have eight weeks to resolve complaints before ombudsman can step in

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By Legal Futures

13 September 2010

Time is of the essence: LeO may ask why firms did not act even quicker than eight weeks

Lawyers will have a maximum of eight weeks to resolve complaints before the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will agree to investigate, the new service has confirmed. 

LeO’s guide to good complaint handling, issued last week, says it may also ask why a complaint was not dealt with more quickly “if there is a reason why this would have been desirable”. 

LeO opens for business on 6 October. It only expects around a quarter of the 80,000 anticipated complaints will turn into cases because of the requirement that the lawyer try and deal with it first, among other reasons. Clients will be expected to complain to LeO within six months of their last contact with the lawyer or firm, with a backstop of 12 months to raise a complaint in the first place. 

The frontline regulators are under pressure to ensure that their regulated communities improve the way they handle complaints, and the report of a workshop held to consider how the regulators should go about collecting data on complaints – which has recently been published by the Legal Services Board – said the board will next year review their progress.

The data will inform this review, which it said will focus on “whether the outcomes for consumers from effective complaints handling are being achieved and whether the signposting requirements [that point dissatisfied consumers towards the firm’s complaints-handling process and then LeO] have opened access to complaints-handling processes from the consumer’s perspective”. 

LeO will be keen to see evidence that the firm or chambers has learnt from complaints. Among the sort of questions the ombudsman will ask when reviewing how a lawyer dealt with a complaint, which are highlighted by the guide, are “Was the complaint used to identify ways to improve the service provided?” and “Was the complainant told of any system changes which were made as a result of the complaint?”. 

The guide emphasises that LeO’s role is not just about resolving complaints. “It goes much wider. Another key part of our work involves trying to help lawyers avoid complaints. We know mistakes will happen, things will go wrong – and where they do, we want to provide guidance to help the lawyer to sort things out and put things right as quickly and effectively as possible. We want to use complaints as a way of improving the service provided by lawyers.” 

The guide provides a non-exhaustive list of the kinds of questions LeO will ask, but warns against using it as “a checklist to be applied mechanically”. 

LeO has also published a ‘Making a complaint’ leaflet. It says giving it to clients will help lawyers fulfill the Legal Services Board requirements that they must tell clients about their complaints-handling procedures and how to get in touch with LeO. 

The guide and leaflet can be found here.

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