You can come out now, it’s safe to look. Monday was judgment day, when the Legal Ombudsman would finally get its way and publish complaints data on solicitors.
And what do you know? The figures don’t look bad at all. In fact, in comparison to other professions, lawyers seem to be amongst the best behaved. In all, the ombudsman was required to make 922 decisions involving 772 firms from April to July. The vast majority had one single complaint against their name – and 400 of those were later found to be blameless.
Just one firm reached double figures for complaints received (and only just) and no firm faced anymore than five penalties. Even the outfit with the most complaints and remedies, national firm Lyons Davidson, had just five ‘ombudsman remedy requireds’.
Compared with other professions, this looks pretty good. On Tuesday the General Medical Council reported that more than 8,700 complaints were made about doctors in 2011. In the first half of 2012, the financial ombudsman received 135,170 complaints about banks and other institutions, of which 71% were upheld.
Barclays alone faced 23,703 complaints – 25 times more than were made about all law firms (albeit over a longer time). So why doesn’t this feel like a victory for the legal profession? Why does it feel like another stick with which to beat a legal profession so many already assume to be dodgy?
Again, it comes down to context. The general public understands the size of the Barclays operation and will consider their complaints figures accordingly. What else would you expect from such a banking giant? But what does the public know of Lyons Davidson? Do people realise that the 10 complaints came from a pool of more than 70,000 cases in some of the most contentious areas of law? To me, that looks pretty good.
The stats tell you everything and nothing. You’ll find out the mistake and the punishment, but without an idea of the scale of the firm, they’re useless – and offer no protection to the consumer. It’s even worse for firms which did nothing wrong but are on the list simply because of a complaint received.
Will the public acknowledge whether remedy was needed or simply take the ‘no smoke without fire’ approach and assume they are untrustworthy? Internet searches (probably the most common way of finding a firm) will always link one of these firms to complaints, no matter how unfounded that moan proved to be.
Complaints publishing was supposed to be an important tool in empowering the consumer, but it’s difficult to see how these tables are in the public interest. Instead they simply tarnish a profession that seems to be better than most at dealing with its customers.
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