Leo News logo
photo of our Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson.
Sampson says...

The latest from our Chief Ombudsman
If you've read my blog recently you'll have noticed me talking about various changes in the legal sector and the associated risks. Very recently you may have caught me fretting about the best way to keep up with the online world, not only in terms of offering redress to users of online legal services but also in the way we communicate with our audiences.

Having got to a point where we actually have data to report, case studies to take stock of and a better overall picture of where the risks to consumers are likely to come from, we're embracing the online world again to reach out to lawyers, consumers and anyone with an interest in this stuff by that slightly older of the new mediums – an e-newsletter.

I think our Chair of the Board, Liz France, has ticked all the boxes in terms of explaining how and why LeO News was conceived; suffice to say, this is the first in a series of quarterly editions. I hope it will give you a good insight to our work and the things we're learning now that operations are in full flow.

To run through recent developments as briefly as possible:

In March we published our first thematic report of 2012: 'Costs and customer service in a changing legal services market'. The report looks at the number and nature of complaints we receive, and shows that since we launched, the single biggest cause of complaints has been lawyers' costs.

The issues people faced ranged from over-charging through to being surprised or confused about the info given to them about costs. The report puts the onus on lawyers to learn the value of clearer pricing information and better customer service. The way I see it, it's a case of do these things or risk falling behind more commercially astute firms, such as those now emerging under Alternative Business Structures (ABS).

As we move further into the year we see more and more evidence of pressures on the legal services market, which means things are going to change quite fundamentally. ABSs are one of those pressures and they've enabled some big corporate entities to offer services traditionally only offered by high street practices. But they're not the only pressure, and ABSs are not the only way in which big corporate entities can enter the legal services market.

For a start, we're seeing more interest from banks and insurance companies offering linked legal and financial products. The growth of the internet, and sophisticated software, means that services traditionally carried out by lawyers can now be systemised, modified and churned out by computer, rather than traditional solicitors. So the costs report was the first of what's likely to be a series of reports identifying this shift in the legal services paradigm.

Take a look at the guides we produced to support the report. There's one for lawyers about good cost practice and one for consumers, which illustrates things to look out for and questions to ask when first instructing a lawyer. They're available from our website here: http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/aboutus/publications.html.

March also saw our Board set out its vision for LeO in the latest Business Strategy and Plan, which aims to help simplify our approach so we become more effective. One of the challenges we set ourselves is to manage our work within a reduced annual budget of just under £17m. This should reflect the volumes of activity we're getting but means we can be flexible and hopefully respond to any changes should we need to. There's been plenty written in the media this last month or so about the regulation of will-writers and claims management companies. Obviously, this could mean more complaints for us in the not-so-distant future.

You can read our Business Plan here: http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/aboutus/publications.html#corp_plans_budgets.

And in the summer there's plenty to keep us occupied. In July, I know that legal professionals, consumers and the media will be watching as we publish the first quarterly report of ombudsman decisions. Understandably, we've had a few enquiries from lawyers and journalists about how this policy is going to work, so it might be helpful if I briefly run through the bones of it again here. Essentially there are two aspects that lawyers and consumers need to be aware of.

First of all, we'll identify lawyers or law firms that have been involved in cases where there's a pattern of complaints or circumstances suggesting it's in the public interest to name the firm or individual. We'll publish this information as soon as it's been agreed publication is warranted. Second, we'll collate and publish the names of all lawyers or law firms involved in complaints resolved by a formal ombudsman decision in a table summarising the numbers, outcomes and areas of law involved in the relevant cases.

Something to note: the policy relates to publishing data on all ombudsman's decisions that have closed since 1 April and not just cases that have opened and closed since then.

Finally, in July we are publishing our second Annual Report. Some of this will, undoubtedly, be the usual bureaucratic gubbins which any statutory body has to report, of interest only to a few individuals. But the report will also contain a thematic section containing some reflections on the commercialisation of legal services and the challenges we think this poses. The full report has not been written yet, but I intend to explore some of the potential risks that commercially and technologically driven services such as those provided online (notice the recurring theme here?) and insurance bundles might pose to both lawyers' professional ethics and the consumer experience. Watch this space.

go to Elizabeth France Warm welcome article
A warm welcome from the Chair of the Board, Elizabeth France
Everything is relative isn’t it? I am already in my second term as Chair
go to Take Two article
Take Two
We invite two contributors from different sides of the debate...
<--Back to contents-->