There’s nothing wrong with informing consumers, but could we give them the full story perhaps?
As someone originally from Essex, I’m aware of the media’s obsession with casting my home county in a bad light.
No matter how many times I offer Blur, Boudicca or Constable as evidence of great things, we are seemingly the county of vajazzles and Joey Essex, whatever they may be.
Solicitors must feel the same. No matter what good things they achieve, the national media will ignore them over something more salacious and negative. And ultimately who can blame them when it obviously brings in greater reader traffic?
But should regulatory bodies really be feeding this witch-hunt?
By the time you read this the papers and broadcasters may well have picked up on a press release, scheduled to come out on Tuesday, from the Legal Ombudsman.
The story is that it is producing a new guide to help consumers understand what they can expect of their lawyer when moving home.
Nothing wrong with that, but the headline for the release is ‘Home buyer hit with £20,000 fee following lawyer mistake’.
The release largely focuses on an - admittedly dreadful - mistake by a law firm which neglected to tell a home buyer about repair bills. It offered to pay an £800 refund, but the ombudsman ordered a full reimbursement plus compensation, which the firm agreed to pay.
I appreciate the ombudsman has a mission to get this type of stories noticed, and the headline is an obvious way of doing so.
But by presenting solicitors in such a shoddy light, with little to no context, this does the profession undeniable - and unjustifiable - harm.
The ombudsman states that it resolves 7,500 complaints a year (which incidentally is likely to fall in 2015/16), of which 23% relate to conveyancing. That’s roughly 1,725 complaints, from almost one million property transactions completed in the year. Put another way, a complaint is likely to be made about a lawyer in just 0.17% of property transactions.
Incidentally, the ombudsman makes less effort to tell consumers about numbers of complaints falling; last week’s announcement appeared on the website but not in a press release.
The ombudsman’s quoted victim of bad service said she felt ‘frightened’ and couldn’t sleep due to her ordeal. I don’t doubt that - and I feel sorry for her - but this kind of one-sided assassination of the legal profession will give solicitors nightmares too.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor