The Legal Ombudsman says it will push on with plans to write annual reviews of law firms – but is already warning that progress could be hamstrung by lack of money.
The complaints handler this week published its response to last year’s discussion paper on improving the transparency of its work. Proposals at the time included publishing all decisions in full and writing annual reviews of service providers.
The idea of reviews, which would be sent directly to firms with an edited version made available to the public, is being pursued through a pilot project that will be developed next year.
Feedback on the option, which came through 17 responses to the discussion paper, suggested reviews could be a useful learning tool for firms but of more limited use to the public. Questions were also raised about what firms would be selected and whether any provider that was assessed could lose instructions as a result.
The proposal to publish all ombudsman decisions in full was welcomed by some respondents, who suggested this was already best practice in other sectors. It was also felt that what the ombudsman describes as a ‘power imbalance’ between clients and providers would be redressed by providing complaints information.
But concerns were also raised about whether publishing full decisions would give an unfair representation of the service of a firm, particularly if complaints were rare, or stemmed from the actions of an individual.
The ombudsman said in response: ‘From a policy view publishing our decisions shows that we are being open and transparent, and open to our decisions being scrutinised by the sector.
‘A greater level of scrutiny from individual providers, the sector, and other bodies will contribute to a greater understanding of our decision-making processes as well as the standards that we expect from service providers and trends in complaints.’
But despite general approval, budget constraints and practical implications mean that any progress on this is unlikely to be until 2021/22. Similar issues will prevent the ombudsman from pursuing the publication of a greater range of data about complaints.
Since the discussion paper was published, the ombudsman has been denied a significant increase in its budget. The response closed by admitting that resources to undertake more transparency work are ‘limited’. The organisation said it was mindful of current performance issues and said that what resources are available should be put for now to improving timeliness of investigations.