Law Society responds to LeO complaints proposals

Law Society responds to LeO complaints proposals

The Law Society has responded to the Legal Ombudsman consultation on its scheme rules and case fee structure.  The Society voices concern over the proposal to extend the jurisdiction of LeO to include third parties and prospective clients.  
In its response to the consultation, the Law Society argues that the prospective client can report bad behaviour to the regulator.  Behaviour which does not meet the Code of Conduct, which would include actions such as turning potential clients away without reasonable grounds, is a disciplinary issue and regulators are best placed to deal here.  Regulators have such powers to issue fines and restrictions on practice here.  
The Law Society does not believe that redress is appropriate for prospective clients, as if a solicitor is slow in responding to enquiries a client is most likely to go elsewhere.  The Society also argues that it is hard to see what penalty is appropriate in a commercial market where the solicitor is not under a duty to take on any clients.  The Society also uses the example of where the solicitor behaves in a discriminatory way, and therefore has the right to complain to the SRA and through the courts.  Here the Law Society argues that the seriousness of the issue means that the right to complain should be left with the courts and regulators.
The Society states that extending the jurisdiction of LeO would impose extra duties to prospective clients and would encroach into the jurisdiction of the regulator.  
There is also concern over the proposal to extend the jurisdiction of LeO to include a list of specific third parties who could bring a complaint.  The Law Society argues that regulatory controls are in place to ensure that solicitors behave properly to third parties in often contentious and difficult situations.  They do not see why a third party should have a right to compensation which they could not obtain at law.  It is suggested that widening the jurisdiction of LeO could lead to a potential conflict of interest with a solicitor’s client.  
The Law Society argues that unless the category of third party cases is tightly constrained, there is a danger that the extension of the jurisdiction will create significant costs.  These would firstly occur first within LeO itself in dealing with the extra cases, which will end up being passed on to clients.
A situation is envisaged where a third party may have a right to complain.  This is where there is no client to oversee the performance of a solicitor.  The Law Society provides an example of this where the solicitor is the executor of a will.  Here the Society accepts there is an argument for enabling third party complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, but states that there is a need for the cases where this is acceptable should be very tightly drawn.  
Other points where the Law Society raise concerns include the possible extension of the time limit to make complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, the increase in the financial limits for compensation and the change in how fees are collected.  
The full Law Society response can be found here
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