Third-party complaints back on LeO’s agenda

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  • Stephen Green

Third-party complaints and a revised case fee structure are on the Legal Ombudsman’s agenda for the coming year.

A draft strategy for 2016/17 published today sets out how the organisation intends to improve its service.

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The controversial issue of LeO being allowed to investigate complaints about someone else’s lawyer is likely to come up again, with the ombudsman pledging to ‘further explore’ the option of dealing with third-party complaints through analysis of internal and external data.

Consumer groups have long campaigned for LeO’s jurisdiction to be extended, but the legal profession has raised concerns about the unintended consequences. The idea was raised by the ombudsman in 2013 but not taken forward.

The 2016/17 strategy also suggests there will be ‘further revisions’ of the scheme rules, including ‘consideration’ of the case fee structure. At present, service providers are charged a fee if the ombudsman chooses to investigate a case. The case fee, in force since April 2013, is currently £400.

Last month, the Law Society called on the ombudsman to give firms two ‘free cases’ per year, arguing the impact of case fees can be considerable for small practices.

Revised case fees are intended to create an improved complaints-handling system, which will also include options for developing alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.

The ombudsman says it wants to identify key areas of service failings and use this to feed back to lawyers, working with regulators and representative bodies to get the message across.

Steve Green (pictured), chair of the Office of Legal Complaints, said the ombudsman intends to ‘sustain the pace of our change and improvement’.

This will include revisiting how ombudsman decisions are published to provide clearer information for consumers.

‘We believe that there is much more that can be done to feed back our learning to the profession and we intend to play a much greater role in helping the profession to drive up standards and in empowering consumers,’ added Green.

The chair said he remains ‘concerned’ at the absence of redress for consumers who use unregulated businesses, and he hoped any forthcoming review of the Legal Services Act will rectify that issue.

The strategy is subject to consultation, which is open until 4 April.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Madness the third party complaints issue- imagine they will be flooded with 'complaints' from disgruntled litigants, fraudsters who have had fraud pleaded against them etc. The unintended consequences of this are horrendous and will potentially hamper a lawyers ability to vigorously protect his client's position- how many will hold back in advancing the strongest case and making difficult decisions because in the back of their mind an opponent could issue that 'complaint'.

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  • Typical 'mission creep' from this self-serving bunch of apparatchiks.

    No doubt Mr Green can tell us how this will work in practice?

    If someone is unregulated, what is to stop him from ignoring the LEO - no sanction from his regulator to worry about and how will any 'fine' be enforceable?

    And who will pay for the LEO to expand its empire in order to deal with complaints about these unregulated folks - yes, you've guessed it - us.

    In a quote elsewhere Mr Green has the gall to actually claim that we enjoy a competitive advantage over the unregulated sector, by us having the LEO to act as a Policeman for our unhappy clients...you really couldn't make it up!

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  • There will have to be very strict criteria for third party complaints if this is not to give rise to wholesale abuse, and it is difficult to envisage what those criteria might be if they are to limit complaints to exceptional cases.

    The professional principles in section 1(3) of the Legal Services Act 2007 requires that lawyers are bound to act in the best interests of their clients. I seem to recall that was a topic of debate before enactment, giving rise to the requirement for protecting and promoting the public interest in section 1(1), the concern being that criminal lawyers would otherwise be required to seek to win at all costs.

    This proposal must not be allowed to go through without major debate. Otherwise every debtor who receives a solicitors' letter will complain to LeO and law firms doing debt collection will rapidly go out of business. There is also a risk in matrimonial and child cases.

    Is this anything other than a search for work by an ombudsman short of cases? See Gazette article 'Legal Ombudsman cuts spending after caseload falls again' http://goo.gl/tw9GCq

    Encouraging complaints for the wrong reasons damages the profession as a whole (and see Gazette article today 'Don’t let lawyers’ reputation go the way of politicians’ – Woolf'). It also imposes an unfair burden on firms which will be exposed to this risk, potentially putting them out of business without any justification whatsoever.

    The Law Society should show its mettle and oppose this land grab vigorously.

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