Confusion in the rules around complaints means law firms are having to “err on the side of annoyance” by referring commercial clients to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) even though it does not have jurisdiction to deal with them, it has been claimed.
Lawyers at CMS Cameron McKenna said the problem has been caused by the Law Society’s practice note on client care, which requires solicitors to inform “all clients” of their right to take a complaint to the LeO; however, LeO’s jurisdiction only extends to “micro-enterprises” – defined as businesses with fewer than 10 employees and turnover/balance sheet worth less than €2m – charities and trusts.
A briefing note prepared by Peter Mansfield and Caroline Hall said firms with mixed practices were facing difficulties: “Should firms refer corporate clients to the LeO knowing that the ombudsman asserts no jurisdiction, or should they ignore the practice note? On balance, most firms are erring on the side of annoyance and referring all clients to the LeO for fear that telling aggrieved clients that they have no right to go to the ombudsman may do more harm than good. Nevertheless, some clarity on this issue would be welcomed, particularly in the brave new world of outcomes-focused regulation.”
The note acknowledged that many larger businesses would not want to use the LeO to resolve their disputes, “but does that mean that they should be denied that option?”.
The pair concluded: “It is obviously very early days for the new ombudsman and this may be a teething issue. Either it, or the over-arching Office for Legal Complaints, may resolve it in time. However, it betrays the difficulties in having several different bodies regulating one profession and it is unlikely to be a solitary example of conflicts arising. It will be interesting to see how these conflicts are managed.”