ProMediate has been authorised to deal with complaints about lawyers, before clients turn to the Legal Ombudsman. We take that responsibility very seriously. It is important that lawyers consider conciliation and mediation as part of the complaints process and there is in fact an obligation to point to a certified ADR provider as well as the Legal Ombudsman.
Concerns have been expressed that too many consumers are still in the dark about where to turn.
The Legal Services Board has said that it wants to look again at guidelines dating from 2010 outlining what regulators should expect of lawyers in terms of notifying clients about their rights of redress.
This could result in the Solicitors Regulation Authority make additional demands of solicitors about how and when they highlight clients’ rights to complain.
Research has shown in the past that just a quarter of those clients unhappy with their service were informed of first and second-tier complaints-handling procedures.
The LSB says that the SRA and other approved regulators ‘should set clear, concise guidance’ for lawyers to help them with complaints-handling and signposting.
‘This should reflect current best practice for communicating with clients, including client care letters,’ said the LSB.
‘Approved regulators should satisfy themselves that authorised persons understand and are effectively delivering those arrangements.’
The LSB’s guidance, which is subject to an eight-week consultation, states that regulators should ensure lawyers’ complaint-handling processes ‘must be convenient and easy to use’, as well as ‘transparent and clear in relation to the process, well publicised and free’.
Regulators should make sure lawyers provide sufficient information to all consumers to enable them to identify whether they do have a right to take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
At present, regulators require all lawyers to notify clients in writing at the time of engagement of their right to complain and how this can be done. At the conclusion of the first-tier complaint process clients must be informed about the option of taking their complaint to the ombudsman. They also need to be informed about ADR.
The LSB said the outcomes required of lawyers are ‘some way from being achieved’, with low consumer awareness of the LeO indicating current requirements do not reflect consumers’ needs.
Successive ombudsman satisfaction surveys have shown fewer than a quarter of clients heard about the service through their lawyer. The LSB’s legal services benchmarking survey in 2012 found 26% of clients, at most, were told by their lawyer about complaint procedures.
Neil Buckley, chief executive of the LSB, said: ‘Improving complaints-handling was one of the LSB’s three main priorities at its inception. However, evidence collected since 2010 suggests that, while the outcomes specified by the LSB in this area are still relevant and uncontentious, they have not yet been fully achieved; further action is needed.
‘Through this consultation, the LSB wants to understand if it can help regulators better support lawyers in meeting their regulatory duties for first-tier complaints-handling to improve outcomes for consumers.’
We will be responding to the LSB consultation and urging them to increase the use of mediation and conciliation at the in-house stage.