The Legal Ombudsman badly missed its targets over the last year following an unexpected surge in complex complaints against lawyers.
Law firms will have to publish their prices for a range of consumer and business services, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has decided, but they will not have to put their complaints records in the public domain. It comes alongside research showing consumers particularly wanted information on price and quality before choosing a lawyer.
Lawyers are getting better at handling complaints, meaning that those reaching the Legal Ombudsman are becoming more complex and costly, the organisation said last week in part justification for an increase in its budget for the second year running.
The Office for Legal Complaints – the body that oversees the Legal Ombudsman – has exercised for only the second time its power to name “in the public interest” an organisation responsible for dozens of complaints and warned consumers not to use it.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel is on the hunt for a new chair after the incumbent jumped ship after just a year to become a member of the Office for Legal Complaints, the body that oversees the Legal Ombudsman. Meanwhile, the Law Society has named the members of its new main board, a key part of its new governance structure.
The Legal Ombudsman has ruled out investigating complaints about unregulated legal services, or collecting data about them, without a new source of funding. The service said it would be “inappropriate” to use money raised by a levy on the profession for this purpose.
Solicitors have demanded to know how the Legal Ombudsman intends to reduce the cost of its work to an all-time low at the same time that it is seeking extra funds to deal with an unexpected rise in complaints. Meanwhile, the Bar has urged LeO to investigate the reason behind a drop in the confidence lawyers have in the service.
The process of publishing up-front price information should be achieved through “prescriptive templates” across the legal profession, the Legal Ombudsman has suggested. It said publication needed to be more than simply displaying likely prices, stressing the importance of lawyers providing context to their quotes.
The current framework of legal regulation is “inconsistent”, the Ministry of Justice accepted today, but said it could not commit to the formal review sought by the Competition and Markets Authority and others. It also said it would not take forward the plan to completely separate legal regulators from representative bodies.
Only a third of law firms are telling clients who make a complaint that they can refer it to the Legal Ombudsman if they are not satisfied with the outcome, research by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has found. The report also revealed limited support among firms for the compulsory publication of first-tier complaints data.
The ability to build trust and establish authority from the outset of a relationship with a new or prospective client is of key importance for lawyers and law firms.