It may be a matter of semantics, but to a solicitor there is a distinction of substance between the concepts of ‘customer’ and ‘client’. All clients are by definition also ‘customers’ and deserve a level of service that recognises commercial realities, including increasing competition from the nationals who are better experienced at packaged services and ‘customer care’.
But a ‘customer’ is not necessarily a ‘client’ where solicitors are concerned, because they are also owed a fiduciary duty of care. We have seen how the ‘dumbing down’ of training over the years has led to an oversupply of lawyers, which is perhaps reflected in the increased number of disciplinary actions and SRA interventions, unrelated to the economic downturn.
The same consequence may in time follow as a result of the change in the nature of the relationship from ‘solicitor’ to ‘seller’. As an aside, the Legal Ombudsman’s case study of Mr A is a rare positive for lawyers, as it hopefully reflects a shift to a more balanced approach to complaints resolution. I dare say that in the days of the OSS/LCS, a case worker would have scrutinised the file to find evidence of every technical breach, whether or not raised by the client and without regard to the fact that the lawyer had actually done a good job.
In the case study, the firm would probably have been ordered to reduce the fees by half.
Brendan Pang, Stokes Partners, Crewkerne, Somerset