The Legal Ombudsman (LeO), for the time being, will not accept complaints from third parties – that is individuals who are not the lawyer’s direct client. This is due to concerns that it is difficult to define which third-party cases should be included and which should be left out of the settlement process. Additional worries included the impact on LeO charges and workload and the negative Scottish track record in accepting third-party complaints.
Conversely, LeO will allow prospective clients to complain against law firms in the future, with the compensation limit set to increase from £30,000 to £50,000, according to information provided by Legal Futures.
The issue of accepting third-party complaints was backed by the Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. However, it drew opposition from the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Bar Standards Board and the Law Society, which were also against prospective clients having a right to complain.
Among other proposed changes, the current one-year time limit for lodging a complaint will be extended to six years from the occurrence of the event or three years from knowing about it. The LeO will also have the power to reject complaints against successor firms if there are good reasons to do so.
Lawyers are currently eligible for two "free" cases each year, but this entitlement will be dropped as LeO data shows that most companies go through the mediation process just once or twice a year.
The LeO will communicate the changes to legal services providers in November and December and hopes to introduce the new rules in early 2013.