The Bar Council has poured more cold water on the Legal Ombudsman’s enthusiasm for price comparison services. In a consultation response the representative body told the LeO that comparison sites can lead to ‘distortions in the market’ because some consumers can be influenced by the outcome of their case rather than the capability of the provider that acted for them.
In a three-year business strategy published last month the ombudsman said making data available to comparison sites to allow customers to compare providers would be a key priority.
Although the Bar Council said the strategy was ‘broadly appropriate’ it added that there is a risk that comparison tools ‘may not provide a level playing field’ as there could be constraints on lawyers that prevent them from responding to critical reviews.
The council’s response is also critical of another of the LeO strategic drivers, the LSB’s vision for a shakeup in the regulatory framework.
‘We are strongly opposed to the creation of a single regulator for the legal services sector and instead support a specialist regulator for the bar,’ the council said.
‘Barristers have a distinctive and complex set of responsibilities to the court and to clients which clearly distinguish them from other lawyers, and it is important to have a regulator that understands this complex set of professional obligations.’
The council echoes views aired by the Law Society about expanding the complaints process to include non-regulated firms. The council said it understood the intention behind the proposal was to protect consumers, but it was concerned that there is ‘a real risk’ that such a change would lead to greater confusion about the distinction between unregulated and regulated providers.
‘Reserved activities should only be provided by authorised providers that are regulated and insured in accordance with the Legal Services Act. Redress to LeO for the provision of high-risk legal services is no substitute for the full range of protections offered by regulated providers,’ it stated.
It added that, ‘as a matter of principle’, regulated providers should not pay for the cost of an ombudsman scheme for clients of unregulated providers.