Confusion over law firm complaints and the new European directive on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is set to continue, the chair of the legal services consumer panel has predicted.
Elisabeth Davies said the decision of the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) last month to withdraw its application to the Legal Services Board to become an approved ADR provider under the directive “wasn’t something we were expecting, and we didn’t see it coming”.
She went on: “The main question now is what could be the implications of this decision for consumers of legal services? And I think the answer could be brief – confusion.”
Writing on the panel’s website, she said LeO’s change of heart meant that although law firms would meet the requirements of the Legal Services Act by signposting to LeO, they may have to direct complaints to another ADR entity to comply with the directive, which applies to lawyers from 1 October 2015.
“Significantly, this further delays work to enable LeO to handle complaints from unregulated legal services providers, something which is long overdue.”
Ms Davies said that to prevent non-compliance with the information requirement, earlier this month the Law Society confirmed the names of private ADR organisations certified to deal with legal services disputes – Ombudsman Services, ProMediate and Small Claims Mediation.
However, Ms Davies said the society changed its advice after a few days and asked solicitors to visit the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website (CTSI), and choose an approved ADR provider.
“And that’s still not the end. The ADR Directive is voluntary for businesses. So even though law firms will have to signpost to an additional CTSI-certified ADR provider, that doesn’t mean that they will be using that service – they just have to say that it exists.
“This is the exact scenario the Legal Services Consumer Panel hoped to avoid. Instead of the legal sector having one body to signpost to, we now have LeO for regulated lawyers plus a multiple choice of ADR providers.”
Ms Davies added that “worryingly” there were risks of “even more confusion” if there were further delays in LeO becoming an ADR entity.
“Rather than working to create a maze of options hampered with dead ends, we should be working to provide a dispute resolution service based around the needs of consumers, and one that offers a clear route to redress for all consumers of legal services – regulated and unregulated.”
In its guidance on the new requirement, the Bar Standards Board suggested barristers mention Ombudsman Services, ProMediate or Small Claims Mediation.