Legal Ombudsman predicts boost for West Midlands sector
The first Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales said the organisation’s location in Birmingham will cement the city as a centre of excellence in the profession.
Adam Sampson is Chief Ombudsman of the new organisation which expects to handle 100,000 complaints each year about law firms from new offices in Baskerville House, Centenary Square.
Mr Sampson and seven colleagues will be able to order up to £30,000 financial redress if lawyers or firms are found to have provided an unsatisfactory service to clients.
The organisation, established by the Office for Legal Complaints, will employ up to 350 analysts and investigators and opens for business on October 6.
Mr Sampson has spent 15 months setting up the Legal Ombudsman – created after the Legal Services Act 2007 put an end to years of self regulation in the legal sector.
He said: “The legal world is very strong in the West Midlands – as well as us the Solicitors Regulation Authority has offices in the region.
‘‘The profession has a strong presence and the siting of the Legal Ombudsman in Birmingham, I think can only cement the city’s reputation as a centre of legal excellence.”
Mr Sampson, former chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, was given the task of setting up the new service in the West Midlands, with the exception of Leamington, due to the existing complaints-handling organisation run by the Law Society.
He said Birmingham was chosen because of the amount of good value commercial property available, the vibrant atmosphere and the larger pool of potential employees that could be attracted due to public transport links.
The organisation initially started in London to enable it to consult with the Ministry of Justice but has now relocated to take up the top two floors of Baskerville House.
This week 100 staff members moved in and will begin intensive training. A further 200 will move in before October.
He said: “We anticipate having something like 100,000 people contacting us every year through phone calls, letters and emails. They will come through an assessment centre.
‘‘Many of those initial complaints will be people who haven’t spoken to their lawyers, which they must do before we can get involved. If the lawyer does not deal with it in a satisfactory way then we can take it on.
“The assessment centre will also analyse what the complaint is about to see if it’s within our scheme.
‘‘If it is something we can deal with they will pass it onto the investigation team in the resolution centre – staffed by 150 people.
“Their job is to see whether the case can be settled amicably between the lawyer and the complainant so we want investigators with good interpersonal skills. We know in many cases disputes can’t be settled amicably, and an ombudsman – myself or seven colleagues – is going to have impose a solution.
‘‘The investigator has to analyse the case and produce a written recommendation for the ombudsman.
“We will then ask a simple question ‘did the lawyer give decent service?
‘‘If the complainant has reason to say they didn’t then we will have to say what needs to be done to give redress.
‘‘Sometimes that will be an apology, sometimes it will be asking the lawyer to do the work to put it right and in some cases it will be compensation or asking the lawyer to return some of the fee. I can order up to £30,000 redress.”
The service will be funded by a levy on the legal profession – from an annual fee which allows them to practice. Mr Samspon said there would be no cost to the taxpayer.
‘‘We are working very closely to budgets set four years ago and are coming way under,” Mr Sampson said.