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.

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Service Quality Fail

As tweeted earlier, I phoned the surgery this morning to make an appointment, and was told that my doctor has retired and that I am now on somebody else’s list. It is only because I happened to call that I found out.

I confess to being slightly miffed. I am not a regular doctor botherer, but I have been her patient for 20 odd years, and this is simply not the way to do it. Although the personal relationship with a GP is admittedly in decline.

In solicitors’ firms where I have worked, the practice was to write to clients informing them that X was retiring, and that Y would in future deal with their work. Some effort was expended to ensure a smooth handover, to ensure that the client was not lost to the firm. Additionally it was a requirement of the 2007 Code of Conduct.

It may be the vulnerability of the client relationship to a change in personnel that may be the key. GP’s can be more certain that patients always need doctors and have a degree of inertia.

Quality – How do Clients Know?

The Law Society urges clients to “choose quality advice”. You spend 3 years on a law degree, 3 more years qualifying as a solicitor, then add several more years honing your skills and adding experience. Then some client complains about the quality of what you do. What do they know?

Unless you client is an in-house lawyer, the answer will be “not that much” even with the internet. After all, that is why they have come to you as a legal expert. This means that they are not able to judge your legal expertise, so they will not. They will take it for granted.

As a result, clients have to judge the quality of what you do by other criteria. This means in particular how you guide them through what is often a scary process. Additionally, do you do what you say you will do, when you said you would do it? Do they know what the process will cost, and if that changes, do you tell them?

In short, can they have confidence in you?

More on this topic in the future.