Legal Ombudsman Transparency and Reporting Impact Discussion Paper – Law Society response

The proposals

In October 2019 the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) launched a discussion paper about how it could improve transparency and extend its current reporting of decisions to make more information available to service users, legal service providers and others, in the hope that it will:

  • provide service users with information about quality of service in order to help them with their decisions about which legal service providers to instruct
  • offer details of complaints to regulators and the profession, with information about areas of improvement
  • raise the profile of LeO with stakeholders as well as others
  • enhance the transparency of LeO’s decision-making to help its customers understand what it does

LeO proposed a number of options including:

  • the creation of more filters on its decision data
  • writing annual reviews to service providers
  • publishing ombudsman decisions in full
  • contextualising its decisions with firm-based data
  • publish a greater range of data about the complaints it sees

Our view

We support greater transparency on the premise that any proposed changes should be backed by evidence of the potential for improvement.

There are significant costs and resource implications with a number of the options outlined in the paper, which would result in only marginal benefits to service users. We have concerns about how some of these options may impact on the profession and potentially have the opposite impact to that intended, in some instances.

Most of these options, if taken forward, could negatively impact on LeO performing its core functions and may, for example, lead to delays in current cases and an increase in its existing backlog.

While we have no objections to the addition of more filters to LeO’s current decision data, it needs to ensure that the filters are helpful and within LeO’s remit under the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) and Scheme Rules.

We accept that writing annual reviews may have the potential to raise service standards, however this option presents several difficulties. We submit that there are better and more efficient ways of raising standards and our response explains the possible alternatives which are more cost and resource efficient.

Our response contends that publishing full ombudsman decisions will not necessarily help service users to make decisions about the quality of service.

Furthermore, for published complaints information to be useful, contextualising data is crucial. There are, however, inherent difficulties with this option due to the nature and diversity of the legal profession and the work it undertakes, and these are set out in our response.

LeO’s suggestion to publish information acquired from investigations or agreed outcomes would be beyond its powers under the LSA 2007. On behalf of the profession, we would strongly oppose any change to the LSA 2007 to enable such publication.

While the profession’s handling of first-tier complaints has improved over the years, we recognise that LeO is in a position to provide more details on complaints data to regulators and the profession which could identify further areas for improvement.

We are happy to enhance our existing collaborative work with LeO in the arena of learning and development to assist the profession to further improve complaints handling and eliminate some of the more common mistakes associated with it.

Our response also outlines a number of suggestions for LeO to enhance transparency and its decision making to help both service users and providers, without the need for significant additional resources and costs.

Next steps

Responses to the discussion paper are due by 31 January 2020. LeO will then look at potential approaches in more detail.