The Legal Ombudsman has scrapped plans to extend a pilot to use mediation to settle disputes between lawyers and their clients.
Analysis of the test scheme, which was trialled earlier this year, found limited take-up from both legal services providers and complainants – and even then just half of cases going to mediation were settled.
According to a report presented to the Office for Legal Complaints board last month, the ombudsman was asked to run a mediated solutions pilot to understand potential benefits to the organisation. The idea was the ombudsman could resolve more cases without the need for a full investigation, but the upshot was the scheme was too expensive to justify the numbers who expressed an interest.
The report states that the overall success rate of the pilot, offering parties the opportunity to discuss their case over the phone with a trained mediator, was just 4%.
Just one in 10 service providers contacted were interested in mediation, and in that case most clients did not then wish to participate. The proportion of cases where both parties agreed to try mediation was 8%, with half of those resolved successfully.
The report states that offering mediation to all newly-created files would require at least two full-time administrators and 1.5 mediators. This would result in a maximum of 24 files being resolved through mediation each month, without resorting to a full investigation.
The report continues: ‘The resource requirement exceeds the costs of employing investigators to resolve an equivalent number of cases per month. Furthermore the time taken to contact parties and attempt to arrange mediation increases the customer journey in the cases that do not successfully mediate.
‘The executive consider that there are insufficient benefits to offer mediation as part of our standard business process and do not therefore intend to proceed with mediation at this stage.’
The mediation pilot was tested partly due to the ombudsman working on a limited budget but expecting the number of complaints to increase.
Other ideas floated to address the issue also appear to have had limited success. The ombudsman tried contacting service providers directly to ask them if they wished to increase their first-tier offer to resolve a complaint: this pilot scheme had a 2% success rate.
While 14% of providers were keen to discuss the pilot, just 6% were then willing to make an increased offer to resolve matters. The resources needed to offer shuttle negotiation was deemed by the OLC board to be disproportionate to the success rate.