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LEGAL COSTS: Ask your solicitor ten questions about costs before your legal expenses run up thousands in unnecessary work & bills – or result in your lawyer taking your home & savings to pay for it

Questions to ask your solicitor – walk if you don’t like the replies. IN SCOTLAND, there are few, if any non lawyer controlled sources of advice to legal services consumers on how to manage client relationships with solicitors, how to control legal costs, and what to do when something goes wrong and your lawyer rips you off.

Client protection – is a myth. Given three decades of evidence that thousands of clients have been ripped off every year by their once trusted solicitors, the only people who believe a complaints system run by lawyers, managed by lawyers and protected by lawyers –  are fantasists, and the Law Society of Scotland.

There are no background record checks available on Scottish solicitors, and the only ‘help’ on offer to clients when their relationship with their solicitor breaks down – is provided by the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), a regulator backed by the Law Society of Scotland, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland. You get the picture.

However, in England & Wales, the landscape is a little more consumer friendly, with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing a more independent form of advice and help to consumers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also publish complaints and regulatory data on solicitors and law firms – a must have service for anyone considering using a solicitor which does not currently exist in Scotland.

As things currently stand in Scotland – if you are unable to check up on your solicitor’s regulatory history via an independent source, the best advice is to walk away – or what happens next is your own fault.

Self regulation by lawyers, pleas to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament for help will not put right your legal problems or what your solicitor did to you.

A handy guide published by the Legal Ombudsman, reprinted by DOI in this article, gives a list of ten questions consumers and clients of solicitors should ask their legal representatives before taking on representation and expensive legal services.

There are further tips in the full LeO leaflet, so please download it and read thoroughly before engaging legal representation.

This guide was written for the English legal services market, and you may be an English reader, so go right ahead and ask you solicitor these ten basic questions on costs.

However, the same questions apply as much in Scotland as anywhere else –  and anyone using a Scottish solicitor should consider asking these same questions.

If you don’t like the answers you receive, or don’t get any answers at all – then the best consumer advice possible is to protect yourself and walk away.

At the very least, you will have saved yourself hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for something involving a lawyer which may well have ended up going wrong anyway.

Why put yourselves through a five year heartache losing your savings to a lawyer, when ten little questions and answers may save you a whole lot of trouble.

The introduction to the leaflet from the Legal Ombudsman states: “If you use a lawyer, he or she should talk to you about the cost of their services. But you should also understand their charges. We have come up with ten questions to ask your lawyer about the cost of your service. We’ve also included some top tips and explained the terms used to help you get the most from conversations with lawyers about costs.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect your lawyer to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.

Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may affect things too. However, most services are straightforward and your lawyer should give you a clear idea of what you will be charged from the start. Even if things do get complicated, your lawyer should warn you when this happens, so there shouldn’t be any surprises in your final bill.

A lawyer who values good service will happily answer your cost-related questions. Lawyers also have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price.”

Question 1  Will I be charged for a consultation?

Finding the lawyer who is right for you and the service you need is important. A consultation by phone, face-to-face, letter or online can help you make your decision. A lawyer can charge you for a consultation but they should tell you before you book and explain any conditions. For example, they may offer the first 30 minutes free but charge for time above that.

A lawyer should speak to you about costs and provide the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.

If you have a consultation, make the most of the opportunity. Do your research to find the right lawyer – you can check online, talk to friends and family, or speak to consumer organisations to help you make your choice.

Question 2  “How do you cost your service?”

This question can help you shop around to get best value for money. Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service. Understanding why the quotes differ can help you make the right decision. For example, one lawyer may be more experienced or an expert in the area of law your case involves. If you have a complex case, you might think it’s better to pay more as it may improve the outcome and cost you less in the long run. With a fairly simple case you might decide you don’t need that level of expertise, so it may be better value to go with the cheaper estimate.

Experience and skill are just two reasons why costs may differ. There are now more ways than ever to provide a legal service which can have an impact on what you pay. For example, you can now buy services that are phone or web based rather than face-to-face. Providers who offer this type of service may save on rent and backroom costs and might therefore offer a cheaper price to customers. Understanding if this type of service works for you will help you decide if it is, or isn’t, value for money.

Estimates may vary for a whole host of reasons. Ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer so you can pick one that suits you.

Question 3 “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”

Lawyers have different ways of charging and their charging method may also vary according to the service. For example, they may offer a fixed fee for writing a will, but an hourly rate for a probate service (the administration of a will when someone has died). Find out what charging method the lawyer will use and ask them to explain it to you in detail. Questions 4 and 5 help with understanding fixed fee and hourly rate charges.

Conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) are also known as ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. If you lose, you won’t, in general, have to pay your lawyer’s fees, but may need to pay some out of pocket expenses such as barrister’s fees or court fees. You may also be liable to pay some of the other side’s costs but it is possible to get insurance to protect against this. If you win, you will have to pay your lawyer’s fees and in addition there is usually a success fee which is intended to cover the risk that the firm are entering into with this type of agreement. You should in most cases, however, be able to recover your fees (including any success fee) from the other side. If you are thinking about entering into one of these arrangements, make sure you ask detailed questions so that you fully understand the terms and conditions.

Contingency fee agreements are also a type of ‘no win no fee’ agreement. If your lawyer agrees to represent you under a contingency fee agreement — which should not be confused with a conditional fee arrangement – they will be able to claim a percentage of any money they win on your behalf plus expenses. If you lose the case, you won’t be charged a fee, but you might still have to pay other costs (which could include the other side’s legal costs too).

The contingency fee percentage must be agreed in advance. You should also check whether the lawyer will deduct any expenses before they take their contingency fee or after as this can make a significant difference to the amount you finally receive. If the percentage you are asked to pay is very high, you could end up with very little – even if you win.

Question 4 “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover?  Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways. It can be easy to assume that it covers all costs for the service you need. In some cases that may be true, but it may also just refer to the lawyer’s fees. For example, a ‘fixed fee’ in a property case may, or may not, include charges related to searches. Sometimes a lawyer may offer a ‘fixed fee’ for a stage of the case, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking your lawyer exactly what they mean by ‘fixed fee’. It’s not a silly question; the term isn’t self-explanatory.

Lawyers will sometimes give you an estimate of the costs. This isn’t the same as a ‘fixed fee’, so check what your lawyer means. This can be important as sometimes a lawyer may charge a fixed fee for a particular stage but give an estimate for the next stage. If that happens, or you aren’t sure, check what your lawyer means and ask for an estimate for the total cost of the case.

Question 5  “You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. This should compare reasonably with your final bill. If you aren’t sure, then ask your lawyer to give you an estimate for the whole service. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much it will all cost. Ask so you know how certain the estimate is. Having a range of costs might be more helpful than a single number, which could shift up or down. The important thing is to understand how much the total bill could be.

You are entitled to ask the lawyer to set a limit on the costs. This means your lawyer has to check that you are happy to continue if the spend approaches the agreed threshold. Setting a limit can help you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks – check if that’s how your lawyer works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the way they charge.

As with ‘fixed fees’, ask if there are any other costs that won’t be covered in the hourly rate.

Question 6 “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”

There may be circumstances where costs do change. This is most likely if new information or developments make a case more difficult. For example, in a divorce case much is dependent on the other person’s cooperation to resolve it quickly. Even if both people intend to behave amicably, sometimes that resolve breaks down. If your costs look like they are changing, ask your lawyer about it. In general, your lawyer should tell you as soon as they are aware of any changes, but you don’t have to wait to ask for an explanation. Another option is to ask, when you choose your lawyer, if their original estimate is likely to be breached. If you have agreed a spending limit (see question 5), then your lawyer should stop work until you confirm that you want to continue.

If a case gets complicated even a ‘fixed fee’ arrangement can change. Your lawyer should explain when this might happen and also set out the terms and conditions in your client care letter. Make sure you understand and ask if there is a ‘get out’ clause to say if additional costs can be charged.

Remember, you always have options, even in the middle of a legal transaction. If there is a big hike in the costs of using a lawyer, then your lawyer should tell you about them and let you know what your options are. You could use a different specialist who might cost less but take longer, or only use email to contact your lawyer. There might also be some stages in the process that can be missed out. Ask your lawyer how you can work with them to reduce costs.

Question 7 Are there any extra costs?

This really is a catch-all question to help you budget for your service. You are basically asking your lawyer if they have given you all the information they reasonably can to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises in the future. Examples of the sort of information this question might raise are additional costs for things like expert reports (such as from a doctor), or photocopying. Some firms use premium rate phone numbers, which could add unexpected costs to the final amount you spend for your service. Use these examples as a prompt to discuss this issue. Your lawyer should also tell you if you are likely to incur any bank charges. For example, you might need to make a CHAPs payment (same day electronic transfer) which can cost over £20 in a property transaction.

Finally, don’t forget to check if your estimate is inclusive of VAT. Your lawyer should tell you, but check so that you don’t get a higher bill than you’re expecting.

Question 8 “Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?”

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs. There can be some fine-print with different insurance options that you need to understand, so ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are signing up to. Some insurances, like ‘after the event’ or ‘before the event’ insurance, could cover you for some things but not for others. Ask your lawyer for more information.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs. There are different programmes for different types of help but the best known is legal aid, which provides free legal advice from lawyers who are registered with the service. Even if your lawyer isn’t registered to provide legal aid they should tell you about it so you have the option of going to a lawyer who can.

Question 9 “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. You may be asked to pay some money at the start either to cover certain expenses or as an advance payment of fees. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate. Asking the question might help you find a lawyer whose service fits your personal circumstances.

Question 10 “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works. You should not be charged by a lawyer for looking at your complaint – it is very poor service if they do. When you appoint a lawyer they are also obliged to let you know about the Legal Ombudsman who can help you to resolve your complaint if you and your lawyer can’t reach an agreement.

Note – if you disagree with legal bills in Scotland, cases have revealed solicitors often employ threats and legal action for demands to be met within seven days. In some cases solicitors have applied to sequestrate their clients for disagreements on legal bills, and willing, compliant local sheriff courts staffed by familiar clerks and members of the judiciary often grant such orders with little regard for the facts or any representations from clients who question the integrity of legal fees.

SCOTLAND – Consumer protection against rogue solicitors and law firms does not exist.

How bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is  very bad. The Law Society of Scotland is a lobby group for the legal profession which puts lawyers interests first, before clients, the public, or anyone else. Do not expect client protection from a system where lawyers regulate themselves.

Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

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NO NAME, NO SHAME: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will protect identifies of rogue solicitors & dishonest law firms – as legal quango confirms limited publication of complaint cases

Scots legal regulator refuses to name corrupt lawyers. DECISIONS relating to investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) on complaints about corrupt solicitors – are to be published for the first time in Scotland later this month.

However, lawyers who regularly swindle their clients and taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief – as the SLCC confirmed it will not publish the names of corrupt lawyers or their law firms in any ‘anonymised’ decisions to be published every few months on the legal regulator’s website.

The move by the pro-lawyer SLCC to publish censored details of legal complaints in Scotland – comes several years after the Legal Ombudsman equivalent in England & Wales began to publish  Public interest cases & case summaries and Ombudsman decision data identifying the number of decisions against named law firms in the rest of the UK.

This imbalance leaves consumers of legal services in Scotland at a disadvantage – as Scots are not able to find out complaints histories of their solicitors or law firms, while consumers in England & Wales are able to make a more informed decision on which solicitor to use.

In a statement released to the media, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claimed it cannot identify corrupt or crooked lawyers – due to sections of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – inserted at the behest of the legal profession – which prohibit anyone from the SLCC identifying a rogue solicitor or law firm.

David Buchanan-Cook, head of oversight at the SLCC, explained: “While we hope that this will also demonstrate better accountability and the transparency of our complaint handling process, we also needed to balance that transparency with our duty to protect the confidentiality of complainers and practitioners. Unlike our counterparts south of the border, our legislation prevents us from ‘naming and shaming’ individual solicitors or firms without their express permission unless the complaint is unusual and it is in the public interest to publish. Very few, if any, inadequate service complaints meet those criteria.

“For these reasons, we have chosen to publish anonymous complaint information in the form of very short case studies and have, as far as possible, removed any identifying features. As such, the complaint information is only a brief summary of the information made available to the Determination Committee. In making decisions, consideration will have been given to specific facts and circumstances which, again for reasons of confidentiality, cannot be provided publicly.

“We hope, however, that the published information is sufficient to provide general guidance to the profession and that it will help promote best practice in the provision of legal services.”

Coinciding with the new service, the SLCC is launching a quarterly ‘Law Society’ style newsletter specifically aimed at providing practical and topical support for client relations managers.

The newsletter – seen as a move to bring the SLCC back into self regulation fold after years of claiming ‘independence’ – will contain regular best practice features, guest articles, prior notice of future CPD events and will provide comment on some of the trends and features emerging from the previous quarter’s published decisions.

It is worth noting the latest window dressing developments at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission come after coverage in the mass media of several high profile cases involving corrupt lawyers dodging criminal prosecution for fraud and provision of dishonest legal services which often result in substantial and unrecoverable financial losses to clients.

A BBC Scotland investigation Lawyers Behaving Badly – exposed serious flaws in the world of solicitors self regulation where lawyers investigate their own.

And, a recent investigation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed the Law Society controlled quango is staffed mainly by families, friends & associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

LAWYERS BEHAVING BADLY:

An investigation by BBC’s Lawyers Behaving Badly featured among others, the case of John O’Donnell – a serial rogue solicitor who has featured in numerous media reports.

The programme – aired in January 2014 to much consternation of the Law Society, certain parts of the legal profession and elderly aggrieved legal hacks – revealed staggering differences in how dishonesty is tolerated in the Scottish legal profession in comparison to cases in England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Featured in the investigation was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn’t complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn’t stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

 

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Naming & Shaming powers ‘reserved’ : Consumers ‘still in the dark’ on crooked lawyers as identities of rogue solicitors & law firms yet to be published by Legal Ombudsman

Legal OmbudsmanMuch promised Naming & shaming of rogue lawyers yet to happen in England & Wales MORE THAN TWO YEARS after much debate and numerous consultations which received widespread support from consumer groups and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) of England & Wales to name & shame rogue solicitors & law firms in published complaints data, the policy decision taken by the LeO in April 2012 to publish the identities of lawyers involved in client complaints, has not yet resulted in publication of a single solicitor or law firm’s identity.

Shedding some light on the lack of publication of lawyer’s names to-date, the latest annual report covering 2012-1013 from the Legal Ombudsman states “In one of the key decisions taken during the year related to the publication of the statistics about ombudsman decisions. While there was general agreement that it was desirable for us to publish as much information about the nature of our decisions as possible, lawyers’ representatives were strongly opposed to naming the lawyers involved. Consumer groups on the other hand argued for as much information as possible about lawyers involved in our cases to be placed in the public domain.”

“In the event, following a lengthy consultation process, our board decided that statistical data about all ombudsman decisions should be published, including the area of law, the nature of the complaint, the outcome of the complaint and the name of the lawyer or firm involved. We began publishing this data from autumn 2012. The initial media interest which this engendered has rapidly subsided and as the information builds, we may soon be able to begin discerning some patterns over time.”

“As well as the routine publication of data, the board decided to reserve to itself the power in individual cases to publish the full decision, including the name of the lawyer (but redacting the name of the complainant) where it considers that it is in the public interest to do so. No such publication took place during the year covered by this report.”

However, many consumers and some consumer protection groups had expected the LeO to begin publishing the identities of rogue solicitors and their law firms last year.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice nearly a year ago last July 2012 Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson said at the time : “Our Board wanted to ensure that we’re certain about the accuracy of the data we report in the first data set of published Ombudsman decisions and that the lawyers and law firms who’ll be named have an opportunity to point out any discrepancies prior to publication.

“As a result, and on this occasion only, we have this week contacted each of the 750+ lawyers and law firms that have been the subject of our decisions during the first quarter to tell them what we’ll publish. We will then deal with any feedback, where required, in the weeks that follow before publishing the data. The level of feedback and subsequent work needed following this process will determine how soon we can publish the first set of data.”

The Legal Ombudsman had originally announced in November 2011 they would be going ahead with ‘naming & shaming’ in early 2012, reported by Diary of Injustice here : Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales

Diary of Injustice reported on the Legal Ombudsman’s consultation on naming & shaming here : Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now

Which logoConsumer group Which? gave their backing to the Legal Ombudsman’s plans to identify crooked lawyers in England & Wales. A spokesperson for Which? told Diary of Injustice last year : “Which? strongly supports the principle of the LeO publishing complaints data under a strict and published policy , including in some circumstances the name of the law firm concerned. We set out our position in our response to the LeO consultation (page 51: opening up regulatory data)) pointing out that it is the expectation of Government that complaints handling bodies are as transparent as possible.”

Legal Services Consumer PanelSpeaking on the LeO’s plans to publish complaints data & the identities of law firms who perform poorly for clients, Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), said at the time : “Research shows that UK consumers are now leaving well over 100 million comments online every year about their experience with businesses across the economy. Lawyers cannot escape this welcome emergence of consumer power, but instead should seek and then use such feedback to improve the service they offer.

She continued : “The courts will decide the fate of the Solicitors From Hell website. However, such websites fill a vacuum that exists because official complaints data about lawyers is not publically available to help consumers identify good quality lawyers. The Panel will continue to push the Legal Ombudsman to name those law firms who regularly provide poor service.”

oftThe Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also supports the Legal Ombudsman’s naming & shaming policy. The OFT stated in its submission (pdf) to the LeO’s consultation : “We appreciate that you need to balance the interests of consumers with the reputational impact on firms and individual lawyers. However, the OFT remains firmly of the view that the publication of named complaints data could incentivise legal service providers, due to reputational considerations, to maintain and/or improve the quality of service they provide to consumers.We believe that essential data would include:

* The number of complaints made against individual firms and lawyers;

* The nature of those complaints and placing them into categories to help see if a pattern develops;

* The ratio of complaints upheld against an individual firm or lawyer;

* Areas of law where complaints tend to focus;

* Which aspects of service the complaints tend to focus; and

* Whether the complaints tend to come from private or publically funded cases.

However, to-date, no solicitor has yet been named by the LeO, prompting fears in some quarters that protests from the legal profession and alleged murmurs of potential legal action by English lawyers if their names appear in complaints data, has put the brakes on total transparency.

Asked for comment today on lack of naming & shaming by the LeO, a spokesperson for the Legal Services Consumer Panel issued the following statement :

“Just to clarify that LeO publish two types of information: · Details of cases that involve a formal ombudsman decision · Individual cases where this is in the public interest test”

“In relation to the former, this information has been published for a while now. When LeO consulted on this, the Panel wanted all complaints involving a remedy (i.e. those that are mediated as well as ombudsman decisions) to be published. In addition, this information would benefit from having more prominence than it does currently.”

“In relation to the latter, as this is an emergency publication power, given the short period that it has been operational it’s difficult to know whether there have been circumstances when LeO hasn’t used these powers but should have. It would be better to assess this once the scheme has been operational for a longer period.”

For now, consumers are still in the dark over which solicitors & law firms fair better than others in complaints data. Exactly when the Legal Ombudsman does identify rogue lawyers and law firms remains to be decided.

Historically, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has refused to name any Scottish solicitors or law firms involved in complaints, citing reasons of confidentiality and the terms of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 for the prohibition of naming crooked lawyers in Scotland. It is not thought the SLCC in its current format will ever identify rogue lawyers.

 

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Clients of Scots solicitors miss out on ‘right to know’ as UK Legal Ombudsman moves to name & shame ‘crooked lawyers’ in England & Wales

Legal OmbudsmanLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales now operating naming & shaming policy. CROOKED LAWYERS operating in England & Wales who are being investigated over complaints from clients and law firms who are considered ‘serial offenders’ in their poor treatment of clients & consumers could now be publicly identified by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), even if the complaint is yet to be decided, according to an announcement made earlier this week by the independent regulator of complaints against the legal profession south of the border.

The policy, popularly known as ‘naming & shaming’ has taken well over a year for the LeO to implement after several consultations took place amid bitter arguments and veiled threats from the legal profession, who are worried consumers may end up seeing a different ‘warts, complaints, swindling, corruption & all’ view of lawyers other than the carefully manicured image projected by the Law Society and the UK’s legal services industry.

The LeO originally announced in November 2011 they would be going ahead with ‘naming & shaming’ in early 2012, reported by Diary of Injustice here : Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales

Earlier this week, Legal Ombudsman issued a statement & media release on its website confirming the naming & shaming policy is now operational : “As of 1 April 2012 we are collating names of lawyers and law firms subject to complaints resolved by an ombudsman’s decision. Any data collected will be made publicly available at the end of July 2012 and then subsequently every quarter.”

The statement (pdf) went on to say : “In November last year, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), which is the board of the Legal Ombudsman, announced its decision that it is right to publish the names of lawyers in some specific circumstances, in line with the powers given to the Board under the Legal Services Act 2007.”

“The policy – which starts from 1 April 2012 – is to identify lawyers or law firms that are the subject of complaints in two different ways. The first of these is to publish, once a quarter, a table that summarises the number of ombudsman decisions each legal entity has been the subject of, what the outcome was (so remedy or no remedy), and the area of law in each case. The first quarterly information will be available on the Legal Ombudsman website in late July.”

The second is where there is a pattern of complaints, or circumstances where it is in the public interest to publish the details of a lawyer or law firm, then, pending approval from the Board, the Legal Ombudsman will publish this information immediately. This is regardless of whether there has been an ombudsman decision on the case.”

Liz France, Chair of the Legal Ombudsman’s board, said: “After careful reflection, based on the consultations we undertook, I am confident that the approach we are taking strikes the right balance. It meets our aim to be open in all we do while not providing information which is excessive to the purposes of publication – protecting consumers of legal services from detriment and helping to improving standards of service.”

Further information is available on the Legal Ombudsman’s consultations page HERE. Diary of Injustice reproted on the Legal Ombudsman’s consultation over naming & shaming here : Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now

Which logoConsumer group Which? have previously given their backing to the Legal Ombudsman’s plans to identify crooked lawyers in England & Wales. A spokesperson for Which? told Diary of Injustice last year : “Which? strongly supports the principle of the LeO publishing complaints data under a strict and published policy , including in some circumstances the name of the law firm concerned. We set out our position in our response to the LeO consultation (page 51: opening up regulatory data)) pointing out that it is the expectation of Government that complaints handling bodies are as transparent as possible.”

Legal Services Consumer PanelSpeaking on the LeO’s plans to publish complaints data & the identities of law firms who perform poorly for clients, Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), said last year : “Research shows that UK consumers are now leaving well over 100 million comments online every year about their experience with businesses across the economy. Lawyers cannot escape this welcome emergence of consumer power, but instead should seek and then use such feedback to improve the service they offer.

She continued : “The courts will decide the fate of the Solicitors From Hell website. However, such websites fill a vacuum that exists because official complaints data about lawyers is not publically available to help consumers identify good quality lawyers. The Panel will continue to push the Legal Ombudsman to name those law firms who regularly provide poor service.”

oftThe Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also supports the Legal Ombudsman’s naming & shaming policy. The OFT stated in its submission (pdf) to the LeO’s consultation : “We appreciate that you need to balance the interests of consumers with the reputational impact on firms and individual lawyers. However, the OFT remains firmly of the view that the publication of named complaints data could incentivise legal service providers, due to reputational considerations, to maintain and/or improve the quality of service they provide to consumers.We believe that essential data would include:

* The number of complaints made against individual firms and lawyers;
* The nature of those complaints and placing them into categories to help see if a pattern develops;
* The ratio of complaints upheld against an individual firm or lawyer;
* Areas of law where complaints tend to focus;
* Which aspects of service the complaints tend to focus; and
* Whether the complaints tend to come from private or publically funded cases.

Diary of Injustice has been following the Name and Shame debate in England & Wales and it should not be forgotten the Law Society of England & Wales has, at rumoured costs of up to half a million pounds, used the courts to silence private individuals efforts to set up websites naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, the most famous of which was Rick Kordowski’s Solicitors from Hell website.

While consumers of legal services in England & Wales are expected to benefit from the tough stance on naming & shaming taken by Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, there are no equivalent statutory moves being made in Scotland by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to name & shame many of Scotland’s ‘serial rogues’ from the legal profession who regularly get away with a slap on the wrist or secret shady deals done between the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland & the Legal Defence Union.

Even though the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates currently refuse to name & shame their serial offenders who fail their clients, there are other routes, as Diary of Injustice reported earlier this year, here : NAME & SHAME YOUR CROOKED LAWYER : Have you been treated roughly by your solicitor ? It’s time to talk, rate, review, name & shame YOUR crooked lawyer

No one from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or the Scottish Government was available to comment on the lack of public information available about Scottish solicitors’ regulatory history, however a former Law Society Council member speaking to Diary of Injustice indicated any moves to name & shame ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scotland “will be fiercely resisted by the Law Society of Scotland”.

The insider also suggested any moves made in petitions to the Scottish Parliament or pleas to the Scottish Government to amend legislation to enable the SLCC to identify solicitors who are the subject of complaints “will be lobbied against by the Law Society of Scotland”.

THOSE WHO KEEP COMPLAINTS AGAINST SCOTS SOLICITORS HIDDEN FROM PUBLIC VIEW :

Philip YellandMisplaced trust with complaints : Philip Yelland. Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s director of standards, previously director of regulation and before that head of the Law Society’s “Client Relations Office” has been in charge of regulating crooked lawyers in Scotland for over TWENTY YEARS yet from Penman to the present and beyond, most crooked Scottish lawyers have either received a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all while the client ends up financially ruined and excluded from the courts to make sure justice can never be done. Would you trust anyone like this with your complaint ? Make sure you use the media first before trusting the Law Society or SLCC with your lawyer problems.

Lawyer sued for 1 million Sunday Mail June 3 2007Law complaints regulators like the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Law Society of Scotland turn out to be client-haters rather than consumer protectors. Consumers, clients & readers may get a lot further in their complaints and obtain a lot more satisfaction from a media investigation of their crooked lawyers long before the Law Society of Scotland or blundering Scottish Legal Complaints Commission get round to putting pen to paper. Put simply, its more difficult for so-called regulators like the Law Society of Scotland or SLCC to let a crooked lawyer off the hook if they have already been in the newspapers a few times. Its also more difficult to let a crooked lawyer off the hook if, as usually turns out to be the case, the media reveal they have been ripping off many of their clients, not just you, or someone you know

If you have a story about a crooked lawyer, contact Diary of Injustice via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com with full details of what happened, how you were treated and what you have done about it so far.

 

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Solicitors From Hell removed from internet as UK High Court grants injunction to Law Society of England & Wales to censor client reviews of lawyers

solicitors-from-hellUK High Court grants injunction to Law Society to remove Solicitors from Hell website from internet. SOLICITORS FROM HELL, the well known website which allowed clients to post online reviews in their own words of experiences with their legal representatives has been REMOVED from the internet after the Hon. Mr Justice Michael Tugendhat, sitting in the High Court in London granted an injunction to law firm Brett Wilson LLP on behalf of the Law Society of England & Wales, a so far unidentified law firm and a solicitor. The injunction, secured by Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori of Matrix Chambers as announced on Brett Wilson LLP’s blog, followed a successful application for judgment in default against Mr Rick Kordowski, the owner of the SfH website.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice earlier today, Rick Kordowski said : “The Law Society issued an application for ‘default’ judgment. Justice Tugendhat, after perusing many avenues with Hugh Tomlinson QC as to the most appropriate course of action to stop me publishing, including at one stage the Public Disorder Act, decided to issue the default judgment along with two injunction with immediate effect.”

Mr Kordowski continued : “”Of all the ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ forms I have sent to the court in the past, I find it ‘strange’ that the one relating to The Law Society’s class action, had not been lodged”.

The Law Society of England & Wales have now issued a press release on the decision, however a source already commented : “.. some of its members were happy the website had disappeared from existence”

Lawyers & their grudges ? Law Society Chief Executive Desmond Hudson Des Hudson the £400K-A-YEAR Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales who pursued the SfH website through the courts at huge cost to members, commented in a Press Release : “This website has served simply as a vehicle for pursuing personal grudges and vendettas against conscientious and reputable firms and legal professionals. Far from being of any help to consumers, it has been a danger. Some excellent firms have been listed on the website, and exclusion from the site has more often than not been a matter of whether a firm has been prepared to pay a fee to have the listing removed. I feared the website was directing people in real need of help away from professionals best placed to assist them.”

While noting Mr Hudson’s comments, consumers have themselves, witnessed first hand the power of lawyers pursuing personal grudges & vendettas against clients who raise complaints with the Law Society of England & Wales & Legal Ombudsman (LeO), or in Scotland via the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

Cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice over the years where lawyers have pursued personal vendettas & grudges against clients reveal instances of people being denied legal representation, being denied access to courts, being hounded by Police and other public agencies, coincidentally all occurring after a client had lodged a complaint against their solicitor. The grudges & vendettas all apparently helped along by equally prejudiced & vindictive officials at the Law Society of Scotland.

In on example, one elderly client who raised a complaint against their solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland, was threatened with having his pension taken away from him and being made homeless after his solicitor provided a false statement to Police & Benefits officials and the pensioner’s Housing Association, where a relative of the solicitor worked. No action was taken against the pensioner when all three agencies investigated the allegations and found them to be false. However, for some reason, the authorities took no action against the solicitor who provided the false information in order to intimidate his former client, and this same solicitor is known to have been the subject of many complaints to the Law Society including frauds against deceased client’s estates.

On a personal note, if Mr Hudson is looking for examples of lawyers pursuing personal grudges & vendettas against clients, there are many, usually involving the fabrication of evidence against former clients, or a more extreme example, where in one case a still-working solicitor asked one of his criminal clients to pour petrol through the letterbox of a client who raised a complaint about a £300K will fraud.

The Solicitors from Hell website has operated for a number of years, enabling clients of solicitors to write their own reviews of their lawyers work in their own words, something the Law Society of England & Wales have found difficult to accept, culminating in the Law Society’s use of the courts to silence the right of consumers to write about their own experiences and thus alert others as to the potential dangers of dealing with a solicitor or law firm which had already failed their clients.

A long campaign by the Law Society of England & Wales against the Solicitors from Hell website ensued, which at times drew highly personalised & bitter attacks on its owner, Mr Kordowski. In one now widely reported instance Des Hudson the £400K-A-YEAR Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales was alleged to have branded Mr Kordowski “a criminal” after a BBC Radio debate with Law Professor John Flood, Additional coverage on the Law Society v Solicitors from Hell battle over naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’ has been reported by Diary of Injustice in earlier articles,, HERE.

A legal observer commenting on the decision branded lawyers use of the courts against consumers of legal services as“vile” & “degrading to free speech”. He said : “There is clearly a problem with the legal system when lawyers and their lobby groups can use the courts to prevent clients talking freely about the level of service they receive from their legal representatives.”

He continued : “The removal of Solicitors from Hell from the internet simply because a profession feared it was losing business because its clientele were able to write the gory details of how badly their solicitors handled their legal affairs is an attack on free speech and will rightly leave people even more suspicious about dealing with solicitors.”

An official from a well known consumer group, speaking to Diary of Injustice on the matter commented : “Whatever the rights & wrongs of the website, censorship is never to be welcomed in a democracy. With cases such as this, the perception of our legal system is that the courts are giving more rights to convicted criminals & terrorists than consumers who want to write about their own experiences in the legal world or alert others about the poor treatment they have suffered at the hands of the legal profession.”

While the Law Society of England & Wales, its members, and apparently the Law Society of Scotland are happy today over the demise of the Solicitors from Hell website, the legal action to delete SFH from public view, legal action which both Law Societies were planning to use in a similar way to deter the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) from naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, reported by Diary of Injustice here : English, Scots Law Societies ‘team up’ in legal moves against “Solicitors from Hell” in bid to stop Legal Ombudsman ‘Naming & Shaming’ crooked lawyers.

Legal OmbudsmanLegal Ombudsman was to be subject of desperate personal attacks from lawyers in attempt to thwart official naming & shaming by LeO. Some within the legal profession of England & Wales have branded the Legal Ombudsman’s decision to name & shame lawyers & law firms who fail their clients as a witch hunt however, details of just how solicitors hoped to ‘persuade’ the Legal Ombudsman not to go ahead with a naming & shaming policy are nothing short of a witch hunt on their own, where material disclosed to Diary of Injustice indicated key officials from both the Scottish & English legal professions discussed angles of attack against the LeO which clearly inferred members of the Legal Ombudsman’s staff were to be subject to the same types of personal & public criticism by the legal profession against others who reported on ‘solicitors wrongdoings’ if the LeO went ahead with naming & shaming.

Attempts by the legal profession throughout the UK to persuade the Legal Ombudsman against naming & shaming ultimately did not succeed, with the Legal Ombudsman announcing last week it will be naming & shaming solicitors in certain circumstances, beginning next year in 2012, reported in more detail here : Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales.

A final message from Rick Kordowski on the Solicitors from Hell website, before it was ordered removed by the High Court stated : Your right to ‘Freedom of Speech’ – Preserved!

I would like to thank the dozens of authors who have taken the trouble to write and send in a Witness Statement confirming that what is posted on this website is true. I would also like to thank the lawyers and barristers who have contacted me offering their pro-bono help and expressing their concerns about the Law Society’s High Court action to have this website shut down.

However, past experience has taught me that regardless of how much evidence I present in the High Court to support my defence or claim, the judicial system will always side with the law firm, solicitor, or in this case The Law Society.

In order to secure the future of this website and your right to freedom of speech, I have decided to give the website away. The new experienced owners, who operate overseas, will be taking this site to the next level in terms of world wide promotion and ease of access by the public.

All current reviews will need to be re-entered and they will be posted automatically on a new style website (similar to TripAdvisor). Authors will be able to edit and update their listings at any time. Others can make further reviews and solicitors can post a response. Full rating system and the ability to upload evidence, to name just a few advantages. All totally free of charge and out of the reach of The Law Society of England and Wales.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone again for their previous support and kind words. Godspeed.

This article has been updated to include the Press Release from the Law Society of England Wales and additional material. It is very clear to this journalist from this situation, and all clients who have fell by the wayside before it, that a lawyer harbouring a grudge and pursuing a personal vendetta against clients who are forced to complain about the quality of their legal services, is most certainly a greater threat to society at large than any consumer advocate.

 

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Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales

Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales to name & shame crooked lawyers while Scots consumers left in the dark over Scots legal profession’s villains. NAMING & SHAMING CROOKED LAWYERS is to go ahead in England & Wales in 2012 after a decision stating It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances was announced earlier this week by the Office for Legal Complaints which oversees the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). The widely welcomed move for consumers of legal services in England & Wales comes after several consultations held by the Legal Ombudsman over plans to identify law firms & lawyers who let down their clients, moves which were supported by consumer organisations such as Which?, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), academics & UK Government Ministers.

SLCCScotland’s legal regulator the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has no plans to name & shame crooked lawyers. However, here in Scotland, there are currently NO PLANS by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to identify the serial crooked lawyers & law firms who do business in the Scottish legal system. The SLCC has previously claimed all complaints must be treated confidentially, however critics & consumer advocates feel the SLCC’s confidentiality policy exists simply to protect lawyers, ensuring that consumers are not able to find out just how crooked some lawyers & law firms in Scotland really are.

While Scots consumers are to be left in the dark over how crooked their lawyers really are, the Legal Ombudsman’s office has moved ahead on the matter, issuing a Press Release Naming Lawyers – Protecting Consumers (pdf), in which it stated : “It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances. That’s the decision of the Office for Legal Complaints which oversees the Legal Ombudsman.The Ombudsman has dealt with some seventy-thousand calls about the legal profession in the last year. From 2012, information about complaints resolved by an Ombudsman decision will be available to the public.”

Firms and individual lawyers will be named where there is a pattern of complaints or when it is in the public interest to do so.  The move is in response to issues raised by lawyers, consumers, Ministers and others who took part in the year-long consultation on the subject.

Elizabeth FranceElizabeth France, Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints. Commenting on the decision to allow the Legal Ombudsman to name & shame failing lawyers & law firms, Elizabeth France Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints said : “We consider we have struck a balance between protecting consumers and encouraging an independent and strong legal profession. Every day we know most lawyers do a good job for their clients – but there are some who simply don’t. That’s why it’s in the profession’s interest to make sure all who provide services to consumers are doing so effectively.”

Every three months the Legal Ombudsman will also publish lawyers’ names and firms involved in all complaints that have been resolved by a formal Ombudsman decision. This means that examples of good practice as well as bad will be there for all to see.

Ed Davey Consumer MinisterConsumer Minister Ed Davey MP. Commenting on the move, Ed Davey MP, the Consumer Minister said : “I am pleased that the Legal Ombudsman has decided to publish this data. This will make the legal profession stronger, improve service standards and consumers will be better protected as a result. As the Government set out in our consumer empowerment strategy, Better Choices, Better Deals, we are keen to see more information such as this being made available by ombudsmen and regulators.This will enable consumers to be armed with the best possible information before purchasing goods or services.”

Legal Services Consumer PanelLegal Services Consumer Panel Chief hails naming & shaming as ‘great success’. The decision has also been welcomed by consumer groups including the Legal Services Consumer Panel. The Panel’s Chair, Elisabeth Davies said : “This is great news for consumers who tell us they feel in the dark when trying to find a good lawyer. Today’s announcement means there will no longer be a hiding place for the minority in the profession who provide a poor service and fail to put things right. People use legal services at critical moments in their lives and it is entirely appropriate that those who provide these services are held accountable if they get things wrong.”

Which logoWhich? also supported the decision to identify poorly performing solicitors. Asked for comment on the decision to name & shame rogue solicitors, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said : “The Legal Ombudsman has made the right decision to publish the names of lawyers who give poor service. People will finally be able to make an informed choice about which lawyer they use, and can avoid those lawyers that fail consumers.”

The Law Society of Scotland are firmly against naming & shaming crooked lawyers in Scotland. In stark comparison to the moves in England & Wales to allow consumers to find out more about their lawyers and especially the ones who continually let down their clients, Diary of Injustice can confirm that Scots consumers are for now, to be left out of sharing the benefits of increased information about members of the Scottish legal profession who fall foul of complaints. With the Law Society of Scotland FIRMLY AGAINST any move to publicly identify the corrupt element of its members, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and Scottish Government have so far REFUSED to back moves which would see Scots given the same information to be made available in England & Wales which would enable clients to better decide which law firm or lawyer in Scotland is honest enough to handle their legal interests.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who are reluctant to name & shame crooked lawyers. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has previously argued it cannot name & shame any crooked lawyers in Scotland because of the terms of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which direct that all complaints matters and information arising from complaints are to be confidential. The 2007 Act also criminalises any leaks of information from the SLCC with harsh penalties for those within the organisation who whistle-blow on the SLCC’s numerous & now famous anti-client policies. The SLCC were asked for comment however none was provided at time of publication.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been asked to allow naming & shaming of Scotland’s crooked lawyers. Today, the Scottish Government & Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill have been invited to allow naming & shaming of rogue law firms & lawyers in Scotland with a request to amend any parts of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 and any other relevant legislation which the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and Scotland’s legal profession at large have been using as an excuse to avoid the issue of naming & shaming the many serial crooked lawyers who crop up on a continual basis in complaint after complaint.

It is most certainly in the public interest Scots consumers of legal services have at the very lest the same rights & entitlements of their counterparts in England & Wales where such information as is to be published by the Legal Ombudsman in the rest of the UK should also be published relevant to all those solicitors & legal professionals operating in the Scottish legal services market.

Diary of Injustice has previously reported on naming & shaming crooked lawyers here :  Naming & shaming crooked lawyers – The story so far

 

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Decision day looms for Legal Ombudsman on ‘naming & shaming’ rogue solicitors as Scottish & UK consumers demand freedom to ‘rate your own lawyer’

Legal OmbudsmanLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales is expected to decide on naming & shaming before end of the year. AS DEMANDS GROW from consumers of legal services in Scotland & throughout the UK for an independent and transparent ratings system for lawyers & law firms, insiders from the consumer world report the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) which regulates complaints against the legal profession in England & Wales is expected to decide by the end of the year at the latest on how it will finally proceed to identify ‘crooked lawyers’ who have been found guilty of failing their clients after being subjected to investigations by the independent law complaints regulator.

SLCC MacAskillKenny MacAskill’s Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are determined not to identify crooked lawyers, even ones who steal legal aid funds. Yet while consumers in England & Wales will have the added protection of knowing exactly which solicitors & law firms fail their clients, and in what particular types of cases, giving clients the chance to dodge a potentially explosive, expensive bullet of a serial crooked lawyer, there is to be no similar move in Scotland by the Law Society ‘controlled’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) who have kept firmly out of the debate of identifying Scotland’s worst lawyers who continue to rip off multiple clientswho are given a chance to walk away from a ruined client with as little as a £10 fine, regardless of the true financial loss to their client.

I reported on the Legal Ombudsman’s plans to name & shame poorly performing law firms & solicitors earlier in March, here : Name & Shame : Complaints data on law firms to be published in England & Wales, Scots solicitors complaints history to remain secret, for now however, the road to publicly naming the worst elements of the legal profession in England & Wales has been a rocky one, with consultation after consultation, more on which was reported here : England & Wales : Legal Ombudsman criticised as ‘name & shame’ policy hit by lawyers protests over insurance costs, second consultation now underway and alleged secret threats of legal action by the Law Society of England & Wales if the LeO’s plans went ahead.

adam_sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson has backing to name rogue lawyers & law firms.As the LeO’s plan to identify solicitors & law firms in complaints judgements has the backing of consumer organisations such as Which?, and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the UK Government and the Legal Services Consumer Panel, more of which cab be read in an earlier report here : Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now, observers in the consumer world say the time has now come for the LeO to act on the matter at hand, as consumers are being put at an ever increasing risk of using the wrong lawyer they know nothing about, particularly in these tough financial times where clients cannot afford to get into long running & costly spats with their legal representatives over misrepresentation, negligence, or even fraud.

One client who spoke to Diary of Injustice said it was imperative the LeO identified lawyers who fail their clients so that others can avoid the same fate.

He said : “The Legal Ombudsman has to get on with this now rather than waiting until its too late. I have spoken to people I know who used the same lawyer as I did and ended up with a huge bill and the same failure to do anything in their case. They said if they had known of what happened to me they would have avoided using the same lawyer.”

He continued : “Everyone should know the names of useless lawyers who mess up their clients cases and there should be some sort of online directory where we as clients can write about what really happened so nothing is missed out. I really wouldn’t want what happened to me at the hands of a crook in a suit, happening to others.”

There is no announcement yet from the Legal Ombudsman on how the naming & shaming policy will be implemented, however Diary of Injustice will report on developments as they occur.

RATE YOUR LAWYER – GOOD, RUBBISH, OR CROOKED :

In the meantime, Diary of Injustice has received considerable contact from clients across Scotland and in England & Wales on the subject of implementing a ratings system allowing clients themselves to rate their own lawyer. Many ideas have been expressed on who should be in charge of overseeing such a ‘directory’ with many readers pointing out the legal profession cannot be trusted to maintain any kind of book or register on their own abilities as seen from the client perspective. I agree.

solicitors-from-hellSolicitors from Hell website allows clients to comment on their experiences with lawyers. While the Legal Ombudsman takes the time to decide on how to proceed with naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, the website “SOLICITORS FROM HELL” currently offers clients an opportunity to write about their own experiences with their lawyers, whether good or bad. I suggest consumers use the SFH facility. However, as readers will also be aware, the Law Society of England & Wales, apparently supported by their Scottish counterparts the Law Society of Scotland, are trying to close down Solicitors From Hell on the basis the SFH website gives too much free speech to consumers to name & shame their lawyers over failures we should all have the right to know about.

Diary of Injustice earlier reported the legal profession’s battle against Rick Kordowski & Solicitors From Hell, here : English, Scots Law Societies ‘team up’ in legal moves against “Solicitors from Hell” in bid to stop Legal Ombudsman ‘Naming & Shaming’ crooked lawyers after an investigation in Scotland turned up discussions at the Law Society of Scotland who were keen to support moves to kill off Solicitors From Hell in a joint attempt with the Law Society of England & Wales to ‘scare off’ the Legal Ombudsman’s intentions to identify poorly performing solicitors & law firms in published complaints decisions & investigations. The Law Society of England & Wales battle to undermine the owner of the Solicitors From Hell later took a highly personalised twist as Diary of Injustice reported during mid September : Naming crooks is criminal ? Law Society of England & Wales Chief Des Hudson to face legal action from Solicitors From Hell owner over “criminal” jibe.

Further developments in the Law Society v Solicitors From Hell battle will be reported later this week.

HUSH MONEY MAKES THE CASE FOR NAMING & SHAMING STRONGER THAN EVER :

Since reporting on the naming & shaming issue, Diary of Injustice has been approached by a Scottish solicitor acting on behalf of others who is apparently keen to steer this reporter away from further reporting on the Legal Ombudsman’s moves to identify law firms & solicitors who fail their clients. Additionally, a financial incentive was offered in an apparent attempt to persuade Diary of Injustice to drop reporting on the Solicitors from Hell case. Readers can rest assured, neither of the two incidents will have any effect on this journalist’s reporting on the legal profession or campaigning for reforms of consumer protection against the closed shop world of lawyer regulating lawyer and lawyers covering up for their colleagues, all the way up to the highest positions in the judiciary.

You, the Scots consumer of legal services have a right to know the full regulatory history of those in the legal profession you choose as your legal representatives. Given consumers in England & Wales will eventually be able to find out much of this same information, you should begin writing to your MSPs and the Scottish Government now to ensure YOUR RIGHTS are placed above vested interests.

After all, YOU are paying for your legal services, YOU have the right to know exactly who they are, what they are capable of, and whether they have damaged any clients in the past.

 

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