The prospective head of the Office for Legal Complaints says there may be evidence to suggest law firms are improving their handling of clients.
Stephen Green (pictured), the Legal Services Board’s preferred candidate for chair of the OLC, said the trend for complaints figures had been ‘pretty flat’ in recent years compared to expectations.
Last year’s annual report budgeted for 8,500 cases in 2013/14, but this is likely to be nearer 8,000 by next April. Core demand is forecast to be around 7,700 resolved cases in 2014/15.
Speaking to the Commons justice select committee today, Green said the reason for the flat figures had been a ‘mystery’ to the OLC board, which oversees the Legal Ombudsman service.
When pressed by committee member Elfyn Llwyd as to whether the trends showed law firms had improved their client care, Green replied they ‘absolutely could’.
‘I am aware there is some evidence of falls in the numbers of complaints that have recorded. It is still fragile evidence but there is an indication.’
Green suggested this year’s introduction of a charge for firms for their first case rather than their third may have refocused minds on preventing complaints from escalating.
‘There has been a change in the way funding works so in some circumstances the law firm is charged a case fee,’ he said.
‘Lawyers I know have bent my ear about the issue of a case fee. It has incentivised people to resolve their cases at first instance and that can only be a good thing. By taking these measures you can change the way the world works at the coal face where firms and clients meet.’
Green said his priorities if he is installed in the job will be to improve the ease of using the service for complaints, to make the service cheaper and faster, and to ensure redress for all legal services consumers who deserved it.
The committee was due to decide after the meeting whether to recommend Green’s appointment to the lord chancellor. The post, which will be vacated in March by Elizabeth France, pays £52,000 a year.
Green, a retired chief constable who served on the board of the LSB, said he was expecting to be grilled on issues around independence.
‘I would be foolish not to say it’s a risk,’ he added. ‘Anybody who thinks I won’t be independent in my role is sadly mistaken.’