Poor communication tops consumer complaints as LeO reports on first six months

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By Legal Futures

17 June 2011

Sampson: great willingness from most lawyers to put things right

Poor communication between lawyers and their clients was “writ large” as a theme running throughout cases brought to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) in its first six months, the chief ombudsman has reported. 

Legal Futures can reveal that more than 38,000 people had contacted the organisation by the end of March, and nearly 4,000 investigations were launched into service provided by lawyers. 

A third of cases were resolved within two months of consumers’ first contact with LeO, 55% within three months, 76% within four months and 92% within five months.

This compares unfavourably with the now defunct Legal Complaints Service, which had a target of resolving 60% of cases within three months and was achieving 70%, but a better judgment on this will come in a few months’ time once LeO has been up and running for a longer period. 

On the basis of the first six months, LeO is estimating that 80,000 people might contact it in its first year. The working assumption on launch last October was for around 100,000 contacts. Many complainants are turned away because they have not complained to their lawyer first. 

Adam Sampson, Chief Legal Ombudsman, said: “We were set up to simplify how people get redress in the legal services market. Consumers and the profession told us they wanted less red tape and a quicker, informal way of sorting out complaints. That’s exactly how we’re dealing with the bulk of our work, and we’re doing it around 40% more cheaply than the old arrangements.” 

Mr Sampson said that in most cases where things have gone wrong, “we’re seeing a great willingness to put things right and to learn”. Only around 100 cases have so far needed a more formal ombudsman’s decision. 

He added: “But time and again we are looking into cases where a clear, non-legalistic, helpful and early response to customers’ issues could easily have nipped problems in the bud, meaning there’d have been no need to involve us.” 

Delays and issues to do with costs are also making consumers see red – with people who contact LeO frequently saying they would have liked more details from their lawyers as work progressed, and fewer surprises on the final bill. Conveyancing, family law, wills and personal injury were the practice areas attracting the most complaints. 

As reported in April, LeO has appointed a stakeholder advisory panel to provide “expert and honest feedback” on its first six months of operation. It is chaired by Sue Carr QC of 4 New Square and its members include Professor Stephen Mayson and specialist legal regulation solicitor-advocate Andrew Hopper QC.

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