Would consumers still trust lawyers if they were able to access full information on solicitors & law firms ? CALLS for the Law Society of England & Wales to share its database on solicitors with comparison websites have been resoundingly rejected by the legal profession, almost certainly on the basis of fears that clients & consumers will quickly desert law firms & solicitors across the country if consumers were to have access to the true scale of complaints against the legal profession. The claims made by campaigners & information access reformers come after it was reported last month Des Hudson, the £400K-A-YEAR Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales swiftly rejected calls from the Legal Services Consumer Panel for regulators to opening up their professional registers so that the websites can provide basic information to consumers about the different services offered by law firms.
A report carried out by the Legal Services Consumer Panel looked at the barriers facing the emergence of comparison websites based on interviews with the industry. One practical barrier identified was a lack of access to professional registers held by approved regulators, meaning that comparison websites cannot obtain, in a usable form, even the basic information about lawyers, such as their contact details and areas of specialism. The report, which can be downloaded here : Legal Services Consumer Panel’s report on comparison websites in legal services (pdf) recommended that approved regulators open up their professional registers for this and other purposes.
Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: “Comparison websites are a welcome new feature in legal services as they could make it easier for consumers to choose lawyers and boost competition. But experience in other sectors has shown there are also risks – we are calling on website operators to demonstrate their commitment to consumer protection by signing up to some common sense good practice standards.”
She continued : “It’s staggering that so many lawyers are refusing leads generated through comparison websites. Consumers are unlikely to use these services again if they get turned away – it’s a massive own goal by the profession. There are a series of hurdles that comparison websites need to overcome before they are a major influence on consumer choice. Approved regulators could help break down these barriers by opening up their professional registers so that the websites can provide basic information to consumers about the different services offered by law firms.”
Predictably, the Law Society of England & Wales refused to share its own data on solicitors, its Chief Executive, Des Hudson who recently ended the right of clients to post their reviews & comments on experiences with solicitors on the well known website Solicitors From Hell, said the Law Society would not be sharing its data with the Legal Services Consumer Panel, or any other website not under the control of the legal profession.
One access to information campaigner from Brighton who has been involved in a long running campaign to free up solicitor’s complaints records in England & Wales told Diary of Injustice : “Clearly the Law Society of England & Wales do not want its own data on its solicitors, data which contains the appalling regulatory history of tens of thousands of solicitors & law firms across the country from falling into consumer hands, simply because if clients were to find out what their supposedly trustworthy solicitor has done to other clients, they will run a mile”
While the Law Society of England & Wales have refused to share data on their solicitors, consumers can still visit websites such as Solicitors from Hell 2 & Cowboy Solicitors from Hell to find out more about their solicitor, or perhaps post a review of their experiences at the hands of a lawyer.
Readers will of course be well aware the same problems exist in Scotland, where clients & consumers are not able to find out anything about their solicitors complaints records or how they have handled other legal work for clients. However, unlike in England & Wales, Scots consumers of legal services have no organisation such as the Legal Services Consumer Panel to call for a complete disclosure on all solicitors records to be made to the public.
The Law Society of Scotland’s own ‘too toxic to publish’ database on the Penmans, O’Donnells, Lockharts, McCabes, Danskins and more would probably shock so many Scottish clients, they too may do a runner from their lawyer’s office, and deservedly so.