Legal Ombudsman

I was at a talk by the Legal Ombudsman at Birmingham Law Society this week. Interesting – he has a robust style, is informal and is nobody’s fool.

He got his retaliation in first by pointing out that the ombudsman system is very much cheaper than what went before, and that they do not ask solicitors to throw money at a problem to make it go away.

The major bone of contention was the publication of data on adjudicated complaints. The solicitors I talked to all thought it deeply unfair that they could be named if no remedy was ordered. The Ombudsman’s response pointed out that there is a statutory requirement for a publication scheme, and that the Financial Ombudsman publishes everything.

I am not myself sure that this is a huge problem. Firstly, if no remedy is ordered, it might almost suggest that the firm has been tested and has passed. It also makes the point that not all complaints to the Ombudsman succeed, so discouraging the frivolous complainant. Lastly, even for upheld complaints, I am not sure that a single complaint will influence clients greatly. For the firm that had 15 out of 15 complaints upheld, things may be different!

Kudos to the Ombudsman for being prepared to interact with the profession, and at least to acknowledge its concerns.


Redesigning Legal Service Delivery

An interesting American blog article, asking if lawyers have the necessary skills to carry out a redesign.

To some extent, this ties in with the principles of Business Process re-engineering – that introducing IT to a process allows (and requires) it to be streamlined. So under a paper system, an insurance salesman might send a memo to their boss asking them to approve a policy. With a computer based system, the memo probably does not need to become an email – perhaps the boss just needs an approval screen with a list of policies awaiting approval, with links to risk details and a yes/no button.

I suspect most lawyers need assistance with this. But there is a difference between lawyers and insurance companies. In most cases, a lawyer has a counterpart, either acting on the other side in litigation, or representing the other party in a transaction. This makes re-engineering the fundamental legal process difficult in the extreme, unless done by fiat as in the case of litigation reforms.

As an example, when I was still in practice,  I tried at one stage to change “witnesseth” to “witnesses” in deeds. I spent so long arguing over whether there was a difference in meaning that I gave up.