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Conveyancing, family and private client dominate legal complaints

18 July 2011

Conveyancing, family and private client work dominated the complaints investigated by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) in the first six months since it opened in October 2010.

According to its annual report, published today, LeO investigated 3,768 complaints from the 38,155 enquiries it received from members of the public.

Residential conveyancing was responsible for 20.2 per cent of investigations, with family law accounting for almost as many – 19.2.

Wills and probate made up 13.3 per cent of complaints investigated, followed by litigation with 10.3, personal injury with 9.8 and employment with 6.9 per cent.

Criminal lawyers triggered 5.6 per cent of investigations and immigration lawyers 4.1 per cent.

Interestingly, delay and excessive cost were not the leading issues complained about, though they did come third and fourth.

The most popular category of complaint was “failure to advise”, with failure to follow instructions a close second.

Adam Sampson, chief legal ombudsman, warned that the opening up of the market by the Legal Services Act was would pose a “real challenge” and the traditional distinction between what was regulated and what was unregulated was becoming “difficult to negotiate”.

Sampson went on: “Newer providers are, as one might expect, interested primarily in finding structures and business models that work in market terms rather than ones which easily fit the existing regulatory structures.

“While these developments may offer a wider range of legal products to customers, there is a danger of both consumer confusion and regulatory inefficiency.”

Sampson said new legal products “may or may not” provide good quality services but “how confident can we be that consumer – or indeed we ourselves – know who would be the proper avenue for appropriate redress?

“Is it the Legal Ombudsman, another ombudsman scheme, trading standards? Or is it no one?”

Sampson said “the overwhelming learning” from the first six months of LeO were that “the edges of the jurisdiction of the new scheme, boundaries laid down in the Legal Services Act itself and directly embodied in our scheme rules, are not yet clearly drawn”.

He said one of the clearest examples of consumers having difficulties understanding regulatory status was will writing.

“It’s a service carried out often by will-writing firms who aren’t regulated. Because of this customers are left with little means of redress when things go wrong.

“We’ve seen similar confusion about claims management companies, with lots of consumers believing they’re getting a legal service even though most of the work is carried out by a non-authorised person.”

Sampson added that some of the lack of clarity was temporary, the inevitable result of the introduction of a new piece of legislation and the absence of case law.

“As the scheme beds in, experience will begin to provide that clarity.”

Categorised in:

Regulators Termination Wills, Trusts & Probate