Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Legal Complaints Service - Publishing solicitors' complaints records

In just a month's time the LCS is supposedly publishing the report of the consultation they undertook at the beginning of the year as to the online publishing of solicitors' complaints records.

Good or bad?

Solicitors seem to not be happy about this, is that a fair comment? Particularly the Law Society and it's hierarchy - expressed through the Gazette. For example an article on the credit crunch [http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/general/view=newsarticle.law?GAZETTENEWSID=407897] quickly turns into a straw poll on the consultation and it can be inferred that the publishing should not go ahead.
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Personally, professionally and with a modicum of realism, the consultation will probably conclude that the information will be published online. The consultation document itself was worded to meet those ends, the LCS board want this to happen and the MoJ also want a degree of transparency to the profession as the LCS prepares for the transition to the Office of Legal Complaints under the Legal Services Act. For the vast majority of solicitors the online database will have no impact at all. A search will come back with no results - since it I believe the LCS still want to only publish complaints that have been upheld. Much in the same was as the Solicitors Regulation Authority are already publishing the decisions of the SDT online, in a searchable database form.
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This last managed to slip in under the radar, and not many really knew about it at the time. The Law Society made no moves to discredit the decision by SRA but for some reason the same is not true of the LCS's choice.
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When you consider that the LCS receives some 20,000 complaints each year, and rising, (granted not all are upheld or valid) but the publishing of the most serious will surely create a transparent environment for the profession to prosper in. Only those solicitors who have something to hide will suffer, and do we really want these individuals in our profession? I refer you to the 3 Karims of Karim Solicitors who the SDT recently struck off for dishonest use of clients' money [see http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2008/06/on-the-naughty-step-3/ for more on the events].
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Andrew Holroyd suggested a few months ago to bring back an oath for solicitors to strengthen the image of the profession. I think we can all agree that whilst that may be awfully charming, clients are not going to place too much value on that. Call me cynical but the value of any oath has become significantly nondescript, it doesn't mean much too some nowadays.
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To anyone who might read this, can I say this in conclusion, what is better?
(i) being overshadowed by the misdemeanours of a few others in the profession?, or
(ii) giving the public a means to identifying the true professionals in our profession - restoring the trust in some way?
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Finally could I just refer you to that Law Gazette article again and the last line in reference to the consultation:-
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"John Kunzler, claims legal manager at Travelers, said: ‘There were about six or seven consultations out at the time. When are busy lawyers meant to answer all of them?’"
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Is that meant to be an excuse? Prioritise prioritise prioritise...after all, I don't think the Bar will mind not having a response to the court dress consultation that was out at the time.

3 comments:

Nearly Legal said...

Personally, I have no problem with 'serious' upheld complaints being published. The profession should aspire to keep its standards. But what is the benchmark for 'serious'?

Plus is there any appeal process against publication on grounds that it is not serious? I don't think so.

The idea seems to be to push firms to have an adequate complaints process, which in practice means bunging the complainer a hundred quid or two to go away because it will cost a lot more than that in complaints partner's time to respond and deal with the ongoing correspondence. This is so whether the complaint has any validity at all or not - unless there is a genuine serious issue, which is rare.

If you mention the Karims, expect to be threatened with yardies ;-)

Ethan said...

The definition of 'serious' is certainly one of the problems. It shifts dependent on who happens to be in charge of it.

I know that the problem voiced by many is that once the publishing occurs, the floodgates will open - or at least that is the view.

It is going to happen (don't ask how I know!) but maybe if it's done right this time, it could be passed on to the forthcoming OLC in a few years time and benefit everyone.

Maybe even the Karims (dare I say it!!)

I might be too hopeful though..unfortunately.

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