Put yourself in clients' shoes, ombudsman tells lawyers

Ann Abraham, who replaces Michael Barnes as legal services ombudsman this month, has told lawyers she wants them to put themselves in the position of clients.

Her predecessor, Michael Barnes, warned the profession in his annual report in June, that it was “on trial” and that self-regulation would be removed if there was no improvement in complaints handling.

Abraham, the former head of the National Assocation of Citizens Advice Bureaux, adopted a more conciliatory tone: “I've always been a believer in persuasion rather than coercion,” she said.

“I come from a professional organisation and I know how difficult it is to please all your members.”

Referring to the formation of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors by the Law Society and the Bar Council complaints system she said: “The professional bodies have had very little time to make their new systems work. They have both given all of the signals that they recognise the need for change.”

But she warned against complacency: “The profession has a long way to go before it inspires confidence in what it does.”

Lawyers needed to be able to say “sorry”, she said. “Selling legal services is more important than selling cat food but some of the same principles apply. 'Customer care' are words I'd like to hear more of.”

She said she had been “very taken” with the OSS's launch of its client care booklet TLC: Thinking Like Clients in July.

“If the legal profession can get its head round putting itself in the position of clients – whether it's three or six years down the line – I will think I have made some progress.”