Law Soc self-regulation status hangs by a thread

The Law Society is embroiled in a top-level battle over the future of its Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS).

Resolutions put to the society at its annual general meeting (AGM) last week, understood to be authored by former president Robert Sayer, stated that the OSS should stop handling inadequate professional services (IPS) claims. Last year, IPS claims amounted to 46 per cent of the OSS caseload, a caseload that in total cost £27m to resolve. Outgoing president Michael Napier is said to be behind strong opposition to the resolutions.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva is against the resolutions. She thinks such changes to the OSS would signal the end of professional self-regulation.
Council member for the City of London Christopher Digby-Bell is also opposed, but for markedly different reasons. “As the chief executive of a venture capital company, I'm a consumer as well as a lawyer. By even promoting these resolutions, the Law Society demonstrates that it still doesn't understand much about customer care,” he said. “The timing of these resolutions is particularly inept,” added Digby-Bell.
The day before the society's AGM, the OSS was officially criticised by the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman (Olso) for its inadequate handling of complaints against solicitors.
At the beginning of the year, the Government criticised the OSS's slow handling of complaints. It had an outstanding caseload of over 17,000 in July 1999, which was reduced to less than 6,000 at the end of December 2000. At the beginning of 2001, it was ordered by the Government to clear 50 per cent of its case backlog within three months.
This target was achieved, but Legal Services Ombudsman Ann Abraham stated that she was satisfied with only 57 per cent of the OSS's complaint-handling cases that she had investigated during this period; those cases handled by the Bar Council that she investigated in 2000/2001, though, had a 94 per cent satisfaction rate.
Abraham also said that she could foresee self-regulation being taken away from the OSS if it did not manage to deal with complaints efficiently.
“If the OSS is always running to catch up with consumer complaints, it will forfeit the right to self-regulation,” said Abraham. “The Law Society has failed to obtain public confidence in the past. The future could see the OSS making way for a Financial Service Authority model of self-regulation.”
The Law Society has just announced the election of its new president, David McIntosh. In his inauguration speech made at the AGM, client care was a prevalent theme.