Legal Ombudsman commits to publishing full decisions
The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) revealed in a discussion paper that it intends to press ahead with controversial plans to publish full complaints data.
This is despite the fact that the LeO accepts that members of the public do not routinely use the LeO as a source of information. But, they say, the information should be available to anyone researching an individual firm.
And of course, these “quality indicators” are all important in the name of transparency. That modern mantra of virtue.
Linked initiatives that the LeO announced include:
- Improving the LeO website search functionality
- Piloting a project to review firms annually
- Work to improve the contextualisation of complaints data
- Taking steps to better understand what data is useful to members of the public
How do you feel about this?
I have mixed feelings. I believe the public should have access to useful information about law firms.
There’s value in publicising details about serial offenders, but just because somebody has complained does not make it a bad firm.
And without context – which has a strong subjective element – I wonder whether there is any real client protection to publishing full decisions.
Perhaps this could even have unintended consequences:
- potential for solicitors to be more picky when accepting clients (“this one seems a bit off”) i.e. access to justice concerns
- client reads about a complaint, contributing to their decision to use another firm, which might not have the appropriate skills and experience but appears better on paper i.e. worse client outcome
- an increase in the practice of paying off complainants early, to avoid the LeO at all costs – resulting in a rise of opportunistic complaints and reducing the incentive to make genuine attempts to make things right.
Competition and Markets Authority to revisit legal services market
Yes, the ‘transparency’ word again.
Remember the CMA report of 2016 that kick-started this drive towards ever-increasing transparency? You know, the one that resulted in compulsory wording and strange little SRA logo on your website that potentially breaches GDPR.
Well, they are revisiting the legal market to see what progress the regulators have made in the meantime.
Fingers crossed, they will be satisfied. Otherwise we can expect further initiatives.
It seems that the CMA is particularly interested in the role of comparison websites, and why they are not routinely used by the public when looking for a solicitor. Is it because the comparison sites don’t see legal services as attractive from a commercial point of view? Or can they not access useful data? If the latter, we can expect the CMA to force the regulators to give even more data away to the comparison sites.
There are huge concerns about whether it is appropriate to hand over such valuable marketing data to comparison sites, who after all have no interest in client outcomes. Just who will pay the biggest referral fee.
And how are independent law firms supposed to compete online against venture-backed and publicly-listed comparison giants? That is a very real threat to competition.
Essential exercise: Financial Stability Scorecard
Insurers and lenders are asking legal practices to outline their approach to financial stability.
And whilst firms can produce financial accounts, this only offers a ‘rear view’ of performance and does not help to predict the future.
This being the case, it is clear why the SRA requires firms to actively monitor their financial stability and business viability (SRA Code of Conduct for Firms 2.4).
Evidencing your approach to finance
By asking a series of questions (without the need for sensitive financial information), the Financial Stability Scorecard provides a crucial insight, which enables law firms to evidence their approach to finance. The results can be used to help:
- an insurance broker to create the supporting narrative to place insurance
- lenders support credit proposals
- review of the approach to financial planning
- outline the approach to the partner group / management team
- form the basis for financial planning and operational change
The results provide an indication to law firm leaders how they should adapt and improve their approach to financial stability.
Should further support and guidance be required, our friends at Gemstone Legal are on hand to help.
- Survey takes 5 minutes to complete
- Firms are given results upon completions
- Score out of 50
- Firms receive an email offering support to improve their approach and/or a full written report is available on request.
- SRA thematic review of cybercrime – Law firms are prime targets. Most have been victims of some sort of concerted attempt to steal money or data, or hold electronic assets to ransom. We may never know the true extent of losses. Always report successful cyber / fraud attacks to the SRA and your insurer. You may also need to report to the ICO. A comprehensive cyber insurance policy is a necessity, these days.
- Law Society Practice Notes:
- Preparing a will when a client is leaving a gift for you, your family or colleagues – This practice note provides guidance and outlines the regulatory requirements to consider when preparing a will in which your client is leaving a gift for you, your family or colleagues.
- Appointment of a professional executor – This practice note explains what information you should give to clients who are considering appointing you as an executor.
- Cloud computing – Cloud computing has several advantages, but it also carries different types of risks which your firm should navigate carefully.
Question of the week
“Why is mySRA so ?!&^%$£!? awful?”
OK, hands up – I might be projecting here. But seriously, how could the SRA have gotten this IT project so wrong? This is supposed to be the main platform for liaising with our regulator.
For those of you that have not yet had the ‘pleasure’ of using the SRA’s new portal, be prepared for frustration, confusion and delay.
Now, the previous incarnation of mySRA was by no means a user-friendly joy. But at least it worked. Most of the time.
But when the new system does work (and it was down all yesterday afternoon), it is a complete mess. We are fielding a lot of calls from firms not able to access the essential firm admin area (‘My Organisation’), add new staff, remove them from bulk renewals, find the correct application form and even log in.
The Contact Centre and official guidance do not seem to be doing a competent job of sorting this out in individual cases.
And in a if-it-wasn’t-so-frustrating-it-would-be-funny way, all applications now have to be made electronically through the platform – but they are still using those terrible PDF forms. And you have to download them first. And they are full of bugs. And it is not at all clear which forms they want you to submit (ask a different SRA staff member, get a different answer).
Try and pop the forms in an email to make things simpler for everyone, and you will eventually get a rejection from the SRA for no other reason than the ‘computer said No’.
In the worst cases we have seen, the system has caused delay to the appointment of partners and Compliance Officers, and has threatened to derail commercial deals.
Our regulator’s self-imposed systems should not get in the way of running a practice. I dread to think about how many wasted hours across the profession this system has caused.
It is embarrassing. We deserve better. Rant over.
- Gary Senior, ex Managing Partner of Baker Mackenzie, fined £55,000 in sexual misconduct case dating back to 2012. The solicitor attempted kiss a junior employee in a hotel room. Apparently, the SRA has a backlog of over 100 similar cases it is investigating.
- Stephen Michael Oakley struck off for his “cavalier” attitude to money laundering risk, and subsequent criminal conviction.
- Christopher John Bentley struck off for misappropriating £30,000 of client money to keep his firm afloat.
- Sarah Lesley Watson allowed to continue in practice (suspension for one year, the sanction itself suspended for two years) for a string of Accounts Rules breaches, blamed on accounting software. The solicitor was found lacking in integrity in her failure to properly pay disbursements and liaise with the SRA about financial instability. Sounds like a great result, especially since she represented herself.
- High profile firm Taylor Vinters fined almost £20,000 for AML failures – not undertaking appropriate due diligence on high risk clients.