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Sole practitioners and barristers most at risk from naming and shaming, France says

7 November 2011

The impact of LeO’s new policy of publishing the names of individual lawyers and firms could be particularly serious for sole practitioners and barristers, Liz France, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), has said.

The decision to ‘name and shame’ was taken by the board of the OLC, which supervises LeO, ending a three-year row between representative bodies such as the Law Society, which strongly opposed the move, and consumer groups, including the LSB’s consumer panel.

From April 2012, LeO will publish the names of a small number of lawyers immediately, where there has been a formal ombudsman’s decision and it is in the public interest to do so or where there has been a pattern of complaints.

From July 2012 details of all lawyers and firms will be published where a complaint has resulted in a formal decision, whether or not a remedy was required.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal this morning, France said that the impact of publishing names could be “serious, especially for sole practitioners and barristers, because they are individuals”.

She did not expect more than a “handful” of lawyers to be singled out for immediate naming and shaming, a decision which will be taken in every case by the board of the OLC.

“Looking back over the past year, we would have taken that decision in six cases,” France said. “They are the sort of people the profession would want to see named.”

The OLC was not under political pressure from the government to publish names, France said, though there was an “increasing demand” for transparency right across the different ombudsman services.

However, she said the decision to name lawyers and firms was not one was not something that “we could leave in the air any longer”.

She said the board did not want publication to have a “chilling effect” on firms in sectors such as immigration and mental health, which generate a particularly high number of complaints.

As a result, she said the type of work carried out by firms would be clearly stated. France said the board wanted to publish all decisions, with and without a remedy, partly because a complainant can insist on a formal decision. She said that around a third of LeO’s annual caseload of 7,000 cases resulted in a formal decision.

She added that the new policy would be reviewed in a year’s time.

LeO has been publishing anonymised details of decisions since June this year. The move was described as “excessively cautious and consumer unfriendly” by the LSB’s consumer panel (see Solicitors Journal 155/13, 5 April 2011).

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