Thursday 20 September 2012 by John Hyde
The Law Society has described as 'partial and potentially misleading' new data on complaints against named law firms published by the Legal Ombudsman this week.
A table shows the collated names of 770 lawyers or law firms involved in complaints leading to a formal decision by an ombudsman. Data will be published quarterly. The first quarter, from April to July this year, contains some 920 decisions.
Published information includes the number of ombudsman decisions relating to each firm named; the area of law; the date of the decision; the nature of the remedy awarded; and the reason for the complaint.
Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson said: 'What we are publishing is factual data, not opinion, and what we are trying to do with this policy is give objective information about the way the market is operating.'
The ombudsman said the list is designed to promote consumer interests and transparency: 'It follows a lengthy consultation with the profession and takes account of the practice of other ombudsman schemes.'
Elizabeth France, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, said: 'We hope this information will help manage consumer expectations of what the Legal Ombudsman can offer and encourage improvement in complaint-handling by lawyers.'
However, the Law Society questioned how effective the data could be in its present form.
A spokesman said: 'Millions of clients instruct thousands of solicitors each year - with a tiny percentage resulting in complaints to the ombudsman and an even smaller fraction requiring a remedy from the ombudsman. It is unclear how the publication of this partial and potentially misleading data will be of any real benefit to consumers.'
According to the table, the largest volume of activity related to a single firm (10 decisions, of which five required action) involved national firm Lyons Davidson Limited. The firm said that in two of the cases the ombudsman made 'modest adjustments to the level of compensation we offered' and in three cases 'suggested compensation of up to £500'.
Chairman Bernie Rowe said the practice has more than 1,200 staff handling over 70,000 cases a year involving every type of consumer legal dispute: 'From time to time we make mistakes. When we do, we say so, put things right as best we can and pay fair compensation. Needless to say as well as complaints we receive thousands of "thank yous" from our clients.'