Complaints about law firms are projected to have fallen 22% in four years, according to the head of the Legal Ombudsman service.
Steve Green (pictured), chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, revealed the organisation is projecting to have fielded 6,500 complaints in the 2015/16 year, compared with 8,400 annual complaints accepted in 2011/12, the first full year of the ombudsman's existence.
Speaking at a meeting of regulators and lawyers held in Leeds last week, Green said the ‘progressive decline’ can partly be attributed to so-called ‘silent sufferers’, who are prepared to tolerate poor service without complaining.
But Green also said that solicitors are getting better at responding to complaints and satisfying clients.
‘Some of it might be as a profession you are resolving more complaints at first tier,’ Green said. ‘It feels anecdotally there is something in that,' he said.
‘We are seeing the top [most complained about] 50 firms responsible for significantly fewer complaints than when we started compiling the list. There is the sense of something getting better in the marketplace.’
However he added that more clients are acting as litigants in person or making greater use of unregulated providers and thus have no right to redress from the ombudsman.
Green said that where lawyers have behaved consistently poorly, he personally backed the idea of greater use of ‘name and shame’ powers, which have been used just once by the LeO in five years.
‘It is in your interests and consumers’ interests that where we do see evidence or risk we should be more courageous and pro-active in using those powers,’ Green told the audience of lawyers.
‘We have taken huge strides [but] we have a lot more work to do in how we make our presence felt in the marketplace to make you more effective.’
Questioned by one compliance officer about the policy of publishing details of firms complained about, but where no remedy was necessary, the OLC chair revealed the ombudsman may seek a new approach in 2016.
‘One of the things on our shopping list of things to do in the new year is to review our policy on publications. It is not our aim to penalise businesses who take this seriously and try to do the right thing.’