The Legal Ombudsman is an informal alternative to UK Courts and is responsible for investigating complaints between consumers and legal service providers, such as solicitors and barristers. This independent body has been appointed by the Office for Legal Complaints in England and Wales to resolve lawyer complaints fairly and effectively, as well as to improve the resolution period.
In recent years, the LeO has faced significant performance challenges, most notably the substantial backlog of complaints in the pre-assessment pool, which has led to unacceptable investigation wait periods.
In 2021/22, the OLC outlined a two-year recovery plan to improve operational efficiency by reducing the backlog of complaints and improving client journey times. This blog serves as a brief overview.
The Office of Legal Complaints’ Proposal to Improve Operational Efficiency
In March 2022, the OLC published the LeO’s 2022/23 business plan and budget, highlighting the body’s two-year journey to enhance performance. Building on the foundations laid in 2021 in its proposal, the LeO expects to reduce 50% of the pending investigation cases and resolve more complaints than they planned to stay ahead of schedule.
Here’s what the Legal Ombudsman aims to do in 2022/23:
- Resolve over 10,200 cases – nearly 40% more than the previous year.
- Reduce the average waiting time for an investigation to commence by up to 30% compared to the previous year. However, the supporting rationale for the previous and current delays is the investigation complexity and time requirements for historical issues.
- Begin the year with over a third more full-time investigators and resources compared to 2021/2022.
- Remove 1,000 cases from the pending investigation queue with the aid of early resolution initiatives. This could be expanded to 2,000 by adding more proportionality initiatives.
- Decrease the volume of the complaints by 50% by the end of Q2 2023.
- Decline to accept a complaint to facilitate an efficient investigation workflow. However, this is subject to specific criteria.
- Amend the fee structure from a flat fee of £400 to a tiered structure to speed up complaints resolution. This can be done at any stage of the investigation process.
- Enable the Ombudsman’s discretion to discontinue or dismiss complaints, thus, allowing more cases to be resolved earlier. However, the process has to be fair and reasonable.
- This is also in the client’s best interest as it allows them to understand at the earliest possible opportunity if there’s a strong reason the LeO shouldn’t proceed with or discontinue an investigation.
Chief Ombudsman Paul McFadden said the 2022/23 business plan will help the body reach ‘historic performance levels by 2024’ and lead to an acceptable, profitable, and sustainable model – one that mutually benefits customers and the LeO. The body also aims to reduce the pre-assessment pool (PAP) further and remove any obstacles affecting the customer journey time and experience.
With this innovative approach, the Legal Ombudsman is on the right track to transforming and rebalancing its legal framework and processes to provide more proportionate investigation processes in less time.
With the Legal Ombudsman optimising its framework and operational efficiency, lawyers will have to step their game up to minimise delays, neglect, and misconduct. The LeO can also report any suspected delay or misconduct on the part of the solicitor to the SRA.
The ultimate goal of the new proposal is to improve customer experience through quick and effective case resolution while being impartial and independent. Therefore, legal practitioners should try to resolve their issues with their clients before it’s taken to the LeO.
The Legal Eye team can support your firm with your complaint handling, aiming to reduce the stress that is often involved in handling complaints. The team works across all areas of legal practice, for example; private client, litigation and conveyancing (in particular high volume transactional/re-mortgage work). Clients will often fully outsource complaint handling to Legal Eye or alternatively some use the service on a ‘per complaint/one off’ basis.