The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) service is planning for more complaints because of concerns that the legal aid cuts will drive down standards among solicitors, its chief executive has revealed.
Adam Sampson, who is also the Chief Legal Ombudsman, said that as part of its business planning, LeO was considering the effect of the legal aid and Jackson reforms, and that while fewer people will be entitled to legal aid, the number of complaints about legal aid lawyers may go up.
He said: “What seems to be becoming clear is it might be prudent to plan for more complaints about lawyers and legal services rather than less.”
Mr Sampson recounted a recent event at Birmingham Law Society, where he learnt about ‘Hoovering’. He explained: “This is the practice of lawyers prospecting for business in the court building. Often it’s highly competitive. At worst it involves opportunistically talking to potential clients even though they may have a solicitor already lined up.
“You can see how it might be controversial. Anecdotally the Birmingham lawyers were saying ‘Hoovering’ is becoming more and more prevalent – with legal aid reform being the main cause.
“So everyone in the room had some planning to do. Old business models that relied on legal aid need to be reformed. Plans for increased competition and decreased margins may need to be brought forward.
“What’s clear is that as legal services become more competitive the profession, consumers and the Legal Ombudsman need to make sure that there isn’t a resultant lowering of standards. Because if there is then we will all have more to worry about than ‘Hoovering’ in court.”