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Which? Legal Services Reform consultation response 2006


Public deserve a better deal from lawyers

19 January 2006

As ministers today discuss a radical overhaul of the legal profession, Which? reveals that most clients don't trust lawyers to investigate complaints about their own profession.

In a recent Which?, survey 52 per cent of people who'd used a lawyer in the previous three years said they'd be put off making a complaint if it was to another solicitor.

But under the current system, the Law Society regulates solicitors and represents their interests at the same time. It's also largely run by solicitors.

'Appalling record' in handling complaints

The government is currently consulting on setting up a totally independent body to deal with complaints, a proposal that Which? has welcomed. Our Campaigns Director Nick Stace will tell today's Legal Services Reform Conference in Cardiff that the Law Society's record in handling complaints is 'appalling'.

He says: ' The Law Society is currently missing five out of seven of its targets, and an incredible four out ten consumers are not happy with the way the Law Society handled their case.

'The view held by consumers is that complaining is a total waste of time and money, you can't beat the system and as a lay person you have no chance against the legal profession.'

Our survey also shows a new complaints body would have significant public backing, with 81 per cent of people telling us they'd prefer to make a complaint to an independent body.

New complaints monitoring board

Further dire failings in the current system are also evident in the fact that only one in four clients said they were told about the complaints procedure, even though Law Society rules say solicitors must tell clients about it.

Last year the Law Society received more than 17,000 complaints. This marks a 14 per cent increase since 2002. Since many people don't know how to complain this is likely to be the tip of an iceberg of unhappy clients.

At the time the Law Society's failure to meet targets was revealed, Janet Paraskeva, its Chief Executive, said: 'There is a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and unintended consequences of meeting our complaints-handling targets. In order to hit some of the targets...we would have to ignore some complaints which have been in the system for over 12 months which would be a disservice to the consumer.'

Since the start of this year, the Law Society's Consumer Complaints Service has been monitored by a Consumer Complaints Board, which has a majority of lay members.

Ms Paraskeva said:'We fully expect the new independent Consumer Complaints Board to push forward progress made on complaints handling and to ensure greater satisfaction for consumers.'