Sampson: legislation does not prevent investigating quality of advice

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will seek to determine complaints that cross over into professional negligence, it has emerged.

Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson said that while its predecessor bodies, such as the Legal Complaints Service, would shy away from complaints about the quality of legal advice offered, the Legal Services Act “makes no mention of any such limitation of our powers”.

He continued: “We are set up to look at the service consumers receive from their lawyer and since legal advice is a key – the key – part of that service, examining the quality of that advice is a necessary part of our job.”

Such cases will be relatively low level as LeO can only award a remedy of up to £30,000.

The issue of complaints bodies straying into professional negligence territory has always been a difficult one in the legal world. Recognising that there would be concerns about a lay organisation substituting its own opinion for that of a trained and experienced lawyer, Mr Sampson said it happened in many other sectors.

He continued: “Law is all about opinions – any contested case by definition requires there to be at least two competing opinions. But that does not mean than one cannot form a judgement about whether the advice given by a lawyer is appropriate. The rule is simple: if the advice given is the sort of advice that any reasonable lawyer with a reasonable knowledge of the case and a reasonable mastery of the relevant law would have given, then we are not going to question it.

“But if it is the sort of advice that no reasonable lawyer should have given – if the lawyer has plainly ignored a relevant consideration, deadline or piece of legislation – we will have no hesitation in saying so. Of course we will check the difficult cases with a specialist. But in most cases, the sort of mistakes we are talking about will be clear to anyone, lawyer or not.”

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