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Consumer panel renews attack on LeO

Legal Ombudsman begins publishing anonymised details of all decisions this week

27 June 2011

The LSB’s consumer panel has renewed its attack on the Legal Ombudsman for failing to name and shame solicitors with poor complaints records. In its first annual report into the impact of the Legal Services Act on consumers, the panel said there had been some positive changes but many existing problems persisted.

In particular the panel criticised LeO’s “cautious policy decisions”, saying it was “frustrating that consumers are unnecessarily being held back from exerting their muscle because useful information about the quality of providers, such as complaints data, is not made available.

“Yet consumers would receive better service if the names of those who persistently fall short of the required standards were exposed.”

LeO’s consultation on naming and shaming, launched in April this year, was described as “excessively cautious and consumer unfriendly” by Dianne Hayter, chair of the consumer panel (see, 4 April 2011).

It will close on Thursday this week. On the same day LeO will begin publishing anonymised details of all cases adjudicated by an ombudsman on its website, detailing the resolution processes followed and the types of remedies involved. The panel said in its report that a “key theme” was the imbalance of power between consumers and lawyers.

“This is particularly striking as consumers are increasingly assertive in other parts of the economy, seen in rising levels of switching service providers and their use of online customer feedback tools.

“Competition in legal services is weak with the vast majority of consumers not shopping around.”

The panel warned that when it publishes its second impact report, in June 2012, when the first ABS firms are in business, the “market may look quite different and the impact of the reforms on the consumer experience might truly start to be felt”.

In a separate development, a survey of 1,277 people by YouGov for the consumer panel has found that 47 per cent ‘generally trust’ lawyers to tell the truth, two per cent more than accountants.

Lawyers were 40 per cent more trusted than estate agents, who came bottom of the list with only seven per cent.

Only doctors (85 per cent) and teachers (71 per cent) were more trusted than lawyers. Lawyers were ten per cent ahead of “the ordinary man or woman in the street”.

Nevertheless, Hayter said it was “extremely worrying” that fewer than half the public said they would trust lawyers to tell the truth.

“The recent revelation that lawyers may be charging clients to deal with complaints about bad service is one example of behaviour which is denting people’s trust,” she said.

“The profession must take a hard look at itself and work to restore confidence in lawyers as trusted advisers.”

However sceptical the public were about lawyers generally, 82 per cent of people were satisfied that their own lawyers had acted in a professional manner.

The areas of work with the highest satisfaction ratings, based on outcome, were conveyancing and will writing, both with 92 per cent. Probate scored 82 per cent and family law 73 per cent, but accident or injury claims only 69 per cent. The pattern was similar when the satisfaction ratings were based on service, although in this case will writing scored higher than conveyancing.

Public confidence that consumers were protected when using lawyers was 51 per cent, four per cent higher than accountants. Supermarkets topped the table with 60 per cent. However, accountants scored slightly higher than lawyers when people were asked to rate their confidence in making a complaint, 53 compared to 51 per cent.

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Risk & Compliance Procedures