The Law Society has called on the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) to make “concrete, specific plans” on how it going to cope with the new SRA rulebook, which will allow solicitors to practise from unregulated firms.
The society said it was concerned by an “absence of detail” in LeO’s latest business plan on the changes, which could “seriously damage the reputation of the profession and weaken the existing redress protections for clients”.
The society argued that further details should be given of LeO’s proposals to deal with the new Standards & Regulations “well before” they were implemented, a move originally expected in April this year but likely to be postponed by a few months.
“We would request a stronger focus on how consumers and solicitors will be protected before these changes comes into effect.
“For example, the ombudsman acknowledged that it may be difficult to investigate a complaint fully as provision of the legal service may be dependent on other providers in the business who fall outside of the ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
“The ombudsman also accepts that a consumer will expect all elements of the case to be investigated but that it would not be able to comment on the actions of the company.
“We would encourage the ombudsman to consider what additional guidance would assist both the profession and consumers on such issues (and include proposals within the business plan to address the Handbook changes). This would also have the benefit of potentially reducing potential complaints.”
The society called for LeO to hold talks with the SRA about how the regulator plans to implement changes so not to have “a detrimental effect” on the ombudsman service.
“The service should operate for the benefit of the consumers and the profession so any potential increased costs should be identified within the business plan and a budget reserve allocated.”
In a guest blog for Legal Futures this week, Crispin Passmore, former director of policy at the SRA and now a consultant, said a delay in implementation of the Handbook changes until this summer “seems inevitable”.
Responding to a consultation on LeO’s business plan for 2019/20, the society called for “more flexibility” on the level of the case fees charged by LeO, as £400 could be a “significant and disproportionate burden” on a small firm.
The society repeated its call for the return of two free cases every year, and called for a review of case fees to be a priority for 2019/20.
The society said a review was envisaged in a LeO consultation in 2016 but “did not appear to have been further progressed”.
Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, added: “LeO does not yet consistently deliver high-quality decisions and its performance is variable on other key indicators.
“It would be good to see in more detail how the ombudsman will address the performance issues it has identified.
“Concrete, specific plans to deal with the range of complexities that are likely to arise as the legal marketplace changes would benefit the public and the profession.”