Changes to legal sector: beware new risks
Filed under: Your Rights
The Ombudsman has warned that while this may mean more people getting more access to cheap services, it also runs the risk that cheap and cheerful could become cheap and shoddy. So what are the risks?
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Legal Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, highlighted a variety of concerns in his annual report, using a number of cases that the Ombudsman had settled.
No-win-no-feeThis included a 'no-win-no-fee' case, where the law firm took on a case, then reviewed the evidence just before the case came to court, decided they were unlikely to win, withdrew from the case (leaving the client to fight alone), and then tried to charge her £15,000 for the work they had done to date.
Know your rights
The Ombudsman intervened and had the charged waived, but warned that: "We are seeing signs with some lawyers of inappropriately aggressive behaviour when they are pursuing clients for money which they believe is owed to them."
Fixed priceAnother major concern is fixed price services. Sampson said: "It is clear that there are some providers who, in their desire to compete, are promising services which they cannot realistically hope to deliver for the price indicated or who are routinely falling below the minimum standard of quality that a consumer has a right to expect."
He added: "A careful watch must be kept in case cheap and cheerful tend into cheap and shoddy."
CommoditiesHe also drew attention to the commoditisation of some services, designed to reduce prices by getting unqualified individuals or computers to do the unskilled part of a process. This lies at the heart of many of the newer will writing and conveyancing services.
He warned: "First, if commoditised services are to rely upon the use of automated computer systems, they have to ensure that the systems on which they are relying are truly error-free. Sadly, our experience is that this is not always the case."
Second, he said: "Commoditised systems have to be developed in such a way as to be able to identify where individual cases depart from the norm. That is not always the case."
InsuranceFinally, he raised concerns about legal insurance. The Ombudsman's research has found a great degree of confusion surrounds these products. In a recent survey it found that 40% of people had some type of legal insurance cover. However, among those with cover, 74% were unsure or didn't know what financial cover their policy provided and only 11% of them knew which legal services were excluded under the terms and conditions.
He said there were further risks he expected to emerge, as further reforms open up legal service to non-legal firms and individuals.
So while we are more likely to be able to afford new, widely-available services, we need to be very careful that we understand what we are signing up for if we are to avoid all these pitfalls.