Thursday, August 04, 2011

Mea COLPa and the Lawyer's Gone Bust...


Two separate items in Legal Futures raise concerns about lawyers and their relationships within their own firms and with their clients. They tell different sides of the same story, from inside and outside the law firm.

The first is that many firms haven't begun to train their staff in risk and compliance for when outcomes focussed regulation begins October. Yes, three months.

The second is that there has been a steep rise in compensation claims against solicitors. The figure is now over £200 million.
New figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said the value of the 1,952 open claims against the Solicitors Compensation Fund at the end of June was £205m, £76m more than at the same time in 2010, even though there were almost 1,000 more claims open then.
I wrote before that law firms are confused and perplexed by who should be their compliance officer for legal practice and what that officer ought to be doing. By October 2012 the COLP has to submit a report on the preceding year. That means having all the reporting and accounting systems in place now, or by October at the latest.

If law firms can't get their compliance act together then how are they going to respond to client complaints? How will they catch dishonest lawyers? Note that law firms have also to appoint a COFA (compliance officer for finance and administration) too. If these processes are fully functioning will clients have confidence?

Perhaps, instead of trying to kill off Rick Kordowski's Solicitors from Hell, the Law Society and Bar Council should be prompting their members to start thinking and acting to ensure clients are satisfied, well-served, and confident in the legal profession.

Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, wrote recently that customer service will be the key criterion
What is important here is the introduction of the concept of customer service as a basic standard against which barristerial actions are to be judged.  I know from my own experience that the vast majority of barristers take their responsibility to their client as their central, driving motivation.  However, there remain a small number of the profession who see customer service as something which is wholly the responsibility of the solicitor and therefore not a matter with which they need to concern themselves.  It is this small group who may struggle to adjust to the new reality.
Barristers, it seems, have not yet adjusted to a non-adversarial complaints system where they can "prove" their innocence. That will be only one part of the process.

Lawyers must realize that the new world of legal services won't wait for them to catch up from the 19th century to the 21st. We know other suppliers will jump in and begin to mop up. It might be Coop or it might be Quality Solicitors, but it won't be the lawyers who stand there with question marks over their heads. Whoever works out that consistently good service across all fronts to all clients improves business will win.


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