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A flood at the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) in Leamington Spa has soaked the files of 2,000 complainants and will drastically slow down the work of staff already struggling under a huge backlog and a 30 per cent surge in complaints.
The extent of the damage at the OSS, which was hit by the floods on Good Friday, was revealed by Paul Pharaoh, secretary of the Law Society's compliance and supervision committee, to the society's ruling council at its meeting last Thursday.
He said the floods, which covered the ground floor of the office in 4ft of water, meant the installation of the office's new computer system, ROAD, which is designed to speed up the processing of complaints, had had to be suspended until 18 May.
'Output for April will fall by a quarter and will be severely affected for months to come,' said Pharaoh.
Although the computer system as a whole was not damaged, 50 PCs were destroyed and 'the whole of the ground floor is out of commission and likely to remain so for about four weeks'.
As far as could be ascertained, all the damaged files had been retrieved from the flood and had been handed to a specialist company for drying out and restoring, he said. The Law Society's total insurance claim was likely to be between £1m and £1.5m.
He paid tribute to OSS staff saying that, despite the difficulties, the office had only closed for one day. And he urged the council not to allow the Law Society to 'slip back into a siege mentality', despite what he called 'slightly hysterical' stories in the press over the surge in complaints and delays in handling them.
He added that the OSS was still unable to explain the drastic surge in complaints - a 30 per cent increase between September 1997 and February 1998 over the same period a year earlier which was first revealed by The Lawyer on 24 March this year.
However, in response to the increase, the OSS was introducing a six-month guillotine for complainants. Their complaints would not be considered if they were made more than six months after the client had ceased instructing the solicitor.
Pharaoh said that staff were also applying more rigorously what was already the OSS policy of only dealing with those complaints which had first been investigated by the firm concerned.