Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales now operating naming & shaming policy. CROOKED LAWYERS operating in England & Wales who are being investigated over complaints from clients and law firms who are considered ‘serial offenders’ in their poor treatment of clients & consumers could now be publicly identified by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), even if the complaint is yet to be decided, according to an announcement made earlier this week by the independent regulator of complaints against the legal profession south of the border.
The policy, popularly known as ‘naming & shaming’ has taken well over a year for the LeO to implement after several consultations took place amid bitter arguments and veiled threats from the legal profession, who are worried consumers may end up seeing a different ‘warts, complaints, swindling, corruption & all’ view of lawyers other than the carefully manicured image projected by the Law Society and the UK’s legal services industry.
The LeO originally announced in November 2011 they would be going ahead with ‘naming & shaming’ in early 2012, reported by Diary of Injustice here : Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales
Earlier this week, Legal Ombudsman issued a statement & media release on its website confirming the naming & shaming policy is now operational : “As of 1 April 2012 we are collating names of lawyers and law firms subject to complaints resolved by an ombudsman's decision. Any data collected will be made publicly available at the end of July 2012 and then subsequently every quarter.”
The statement (pdf) went on to say : “In November last year, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), which is the board of the Legal Ombudsman, announced its decision that it is right to publish the names of lawyers in some specific circumstances, in line with the powers given to the Board under the Legal Services Act 2007.”
“The policy – which starts from 1 April 2012 – is to identify lawyers or law firms that are the subject of complaints in two different ways. The first of these is to publish, once a quarter, a table that summarises the number of ombudsman decisions each legal entity has been the subject of, what the outcome was (so remedy or no remedy), and the area of law in each case. The first quarterly information will be available on the Legal Ombudsman website in late July.”
The second is where there is a pattern of complaints, or circumstances where it is in the public interest to publish the details of a lawyer or law firm, then, pending approval from the Board, the Legal Ombudsman will publish this information immediately. This is regardless of whether there has been an ombudsman decision on the case.”
Liz France, Chair of the Legal Ombudsman’s board, said: “After careful reflection, based on the consultations we undertook, I am confident that the approach we are taking strikes the right balance. It meets our aim to be open in all we do while not providing information which is excessive to the purposes of publication – protecting consumers of legal services from detriment and helping to improving standards of service.”
Further information is available on the Legal Ombudsman’s consultations page HERE. Diary of Injustice reproted on the Legal Ombudsman’s consultation over naming & shaming here : Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now
Consumer group Which? have previously given their backing to the Legal Ombudsman’s plans to identify crooked lawyers in England & Wales. A spokesperson for Which? told Diary of Injustice last year : “Which? strongly supports the principle of the LeO publishing complaints data under a strict and published policy , including in some circumstances the name of the law firm concerned. We set out our position in our response to the LeO consultation (page 51: opening up regulatory data)) pointing out that it is the expectation of Government that complaints handling bodies are as transparent as possible.”
Speaking on the LeO’s plans to publish complaints data & the identities of law firms who perform poorly for clients, Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), said last year : “Research shows that UK consumers are now leaving well over 100 million comments online every year about their experience with businesses across the economy. Lawyers cannot escape this welcome emergence of consumer power, but instead should seek and then use such feedback to improve the service they offer.
She continued : “The courts will decide the fate of the Solicitors From Hell website. However, such websites fill a vacuum that exists because official complaints data about lawyers is not publically available to help consumers identify good quality lawyers. The Panel will continue to push the Legal Ombudsman to name those law firms who regularly provide poor service.”
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also supports the Legal Ombudsman’s naming & shaming policy. The OFT stated in its submission (pdf) to the LeO’s consultation : “We appreciate that you need to balance the interests of consumers with the reputational impact on firms and individual lawyers. However, the OFT remains firmly of the view that the publication of named complaints data could incentivise legal service providers, due to reputational considerations, to maintain and/or improve the quality of service they provide to consumers.We believe that essential data would include:
* The number of complaints made against individual firms and lawyers;
* The nature of those complaints and placing them into categories to help see if a pattern develops;
* The ratio of complaints upheld against an individual firm or lawyer;
* Areas of law where complaints tend to focus;
* Which aspects of service the complaints tend to focus; and
* Whether the complaints tend to come from private or publically funded cases.
Diary of Injustice has been following the Name and Shame debate in England & Wales and it should not be forgotten the Law Society of England & Wales has, at rumoured costs of up to half a million pounds, used the courts to silence private individuals efforts to set up websites naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, the most famous of which was Rick Kordowski’s Solicitors from Hell website.
While consumers of legal services in England & Wales are expected to benefit from the tough stance on naming & shaming taken by Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, there are no equivalent statutory moves being made in Scotland by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to name & shame many of Scotland’s ‘serial rogues’ from the legal profession who regularly get away with a slap on the wrist or secret shady deals done between the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland & the Legal Defence Union.
Even though the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates currently refuse to name & shame their serial offenders who fail their clients, there are other routes, as Diary of Injustice reported earlier this year, here : NAME & SHAME YOUR CROOKED LAWYER : Have you been treated roughly by your solicitor ? It’s time to talk, rate, review, name & shame YOUR crooked lawyer
No one from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or the Scottish Government was available to comment on the lack of public information available about Scottish solicitors’ regulatory history, however a former Law Society Council member speaking to Diary of Injustice indicated any moves to name & shame ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scotland “will be fiercely resisted by the Law Society of Scotland”.
The insider also suggested any moves made in petitions to the Scottish Parliament or pleas to the Scottish Government to amend legislation to enable the SLCC to identify solicitors who are the subject of complaints “will be lobbied against by the Law Society of Scotland”.
THOSE WHO KEEP COMPLAINTS AGAINST SCOTS SOLICITORS HIDDEN FROM PUBLIC VIEW :
Misplaced trust with complaints : Philip Yelland. Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s director of standards, previously director of regulation and before that head of the Law Society’s “Client Relations Office” has been in charge of regulating crooked lawyers in Scotland for over TWENTY YEARS yet from Penman to the present and beyond, most crooked Scottish lawyers have either received a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all while the client ends up financially ruined and excluded from the courts to make sure justice can never be done. Would you trust anyone like this with your complaint ? Make sure you use the media first before trusting the Law Society or SLCC with your lawyer problems.
Law complaints regulators like the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Law Society of Scotland turn out to be client-haters rather than consumer protectors. Consumers, clients & readers may get a lot further in their complaints and obtain a lot more satisfaction from a media investigation of their crooked lawyers long before the Law Society of Scotland or blundering Scottish Legal Complaints Commission get round to putting pen to paper. Put simply, its more difficult for so-called regulators like the Law Society of Scotland or SLCC to let a crooked lawyer off the hook if they have already been in the newspapers a few times. Its also more difficult to let a crooked lawyer off the hook if, as usually turns out to be the case, the media reveal they have been ripping off many of their clients, not just you, or someone you know
If you have a story about a crooked lawyer, contact Diary of Injustice via firstname.lastname@example.org with full details of what happened, how you were treated and what you have done about it so far.