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Payne Hicks Beach among firms heading LeO’s ‘list of shame’

Complaint about family law department triggers compensation award

17 September 2012

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Central London family and private client specialist Payne Hicks Beach has been ordered to pay between £20,000 and £25,000 in compensation to a client by the Legal Ombudsman.

LeO’s decision, made in June, related to a complaint about family law and resulted from the firm’s ‘failure to advise’ properly and ‘deficient’ costs information. The remedy required the firm to limit its fees to a specific amount and pay compensation for ‘emotional impact and/or disruption caused’.

Baroness Shackleton, one of the country’s leading family lawyers, is among the partners at Payne Hicks Beach. She represented Sir Paul McCartney in divorce proceedings four years ago with Heather Mills, who famously tipped a jug of water over the solicitor’s head.

Details of the compensation award were published today, along with 919 other decisions relating to around 770 firms on LeO’s website, the first time firms have been ‘named and shamed’ in this way.

All the decisions were made in the quarter April to July this year and no firm was hit by the top compensation demand of £30,000.

Wards, which has ten offices in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset, was also ordered to pay a client between £20,000 and £25,000.

The department involved was wills and probate and the reasons for the complaint were excessive costs, failure to advise and deficient costs information. It is understood that several other firms were required to pay similar amounts.

Bath-based civil litigation practice LHP Law was among firms ordered to pay between £15,000 and £20,000, in this case for delay in handling a wills and probate matter.

National firm Lyons Davidson, which has 48 partners, was the target of 10 decisions by LeO, more than any other firm, and five remedy orders, also the highest number.

Irwin Mitchell had six decisions made against it, but no compensation awards. Rival firms Thompsons had four decisions and one award, and Russell, Jones & Walker two decisions and one award.

The ‘list of shame’ including over 35 barristers and several law centres. Surrey Law Centre was ordered to pay a client up to £299 for a ‘failure to advise’ on social welfare law.

Chief Legal Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, said: “What we are publishing is factual data, not opinion, and what we are trying to do with this policy is give objective information about the way the market is operating.”

An updated list of ombudsman decisions will be published every three months, with the next due to appear in November.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the legal services consumer panel, said: “Today’s publication of ombudsman decisions - something that the panel has worked long and hard to achieve - is an important step towards helping consumers to make more informed choices and giving law firms a further powerful reason to offer excellent customer service and deal effectively with complaints in-house.

“While this move was resisted by some in the profession, it brings the legal sector in line with many other industries where open publication of complaints data is accepted as an everyday feature of business life.”

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