Friday, 19 August 2011

...And Complaints Can Be Bad for You

In my previous post, I vainly hoped lawyers could learn from the complaints process they now have to follow. Unfortunately (h/t to Legal Futures) they haven't quite absorbed the lessons. This is definitely a case of being placed on the naughty step.

Two law firms refused to follow the Legal Ombudsman's orders to compensate clients. The result was the LeO went to court to get enforcement orders with the consequence that in addition to paying the compensation the firms had to pay the LeO's court costs.

Stupid? I think so. Law firms aren't going to get anywhere by being adversarial. As the LeO says:

“The cases are a reminder that ombudsman decisions, once accepted by complainants, are binding. Lawyers need to remember that our decisions are enforceable through the courts and that failure to comply promptly can mean an unnecessary expense.
“Those who don’t comply are likely to have to pay costs ordered by the courts, and risk being referred by us on conduct grounds to their regulatory body.”
I'm sure the legal profession must be thinking the world is conspiring against it. All we need is the next step to name the law firms. They should have warning stickers.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Complaints Can Be Good for You...

While people argue over Rick Kordowski's Solicitors from Hell, the complaints bandwagon rolls on and on. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued new requirements to law firms on how they are to collect information on complaints.

The SRA's starting point is clear
A perception of poor complaints handling by the legal profession was one of the drivers for the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA). In response, a fundamental requirement of the LSA is that approved regulators must ensure legal service providers have effective procedures in place for the resolution of complaints. Section 112(1) of the Act also requires an approved regulator to make provision for the enforcement of those requirements.
This is the result of the Legal Services Board's YouGov research on complaints handling, which ought to be compulsory reading for all lawyers. So the SRA will now require law firms to collect data on first-tier complaints in a new way.
The complaints categories down the left hand side are those used by the Legal Ombudsman. The row across the top is self-explanatory and covers the previous 12 months. I will be curious to see what gets inserted into the box marked "other". I also wonder if the categories will capture the full extent of consumer satisfaction. The categories seem to me very much "lawyer-type" ones.

The SRA, following the Financial Ombudsman Service approach, will use the data to construct waves and trends of complaints to allow it to see if there are systemic issues in complaints. The data will also inform the SRA that it has a problem with law firms that aren't handling their complaints properly. (You can see how the Financial Ombudsman Service analyzes its data here.)

This is all part of the risk-based approach to regulation now in train. My guess is that lawyers may well be in for a shock when they start seeing the results of the analyses.

My ever-eager curiosity also wonders how much--if any--of these data will be made public. Some redaction might be needed, but it should be there in the public domain, so at least we could see if things are improving.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Google Law!

(thanks to

It's happened. Google has entered the law business! Google has invested in Rocket Lawyer according to Forbes magazine which says Rocket Lawyer has 70,000 users a day. Paul Lippe also covers this at the New Normal.

I've been giving presentations for the past couple of years where I have always finished with a picture of Google's logo and said, "There's the world's next biggest law firm. Beat that if you can." It was usually met with disbelief.

Google analyzes information very well and law is information. At some level there will be the need for sophisticated interpretation via human thought but for how much longer?

First it was Tesco Law and now it's Google Law!

Rock on....


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mea COLPa and the Lawyer's Gone Bust...

Two separate items in Legal Futures raise concerns about lawyers and their relationships within their own firms and with their clients. They tell different sides of the same story, from inside and outside the law firm.

The first is that many firms haven't begun to train their staff in risk and compliance for when outcomes focussed regulation begins October. Yes, three months.

The second is that there has been a steep rise in compensation claims against solicitors. The figure is now over £200 million.
New figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said the value of the 1,952 open claims against the Solicitors Compensation Fund at the end of June was £205m, £76m more than at the same time in 2010, even though there were almost 1,000 more claims open then.
I wrote before that law firms are confused and perplexed by who should be their compliance officer for legal practice and what that officer ought to be doing. By October 2012 the COLP has to submit a report on the preceding year. That means having all the reporting and accounting systems in place now, or by October at the latest.

If law firms can't get their compliance act together then how are they going to respond to client complaints? How will they catch dishonest lawyers? Note that law firms have also to appoint a COFA (compliance officer for finance and administration) too. If these processes are fully functioning will clients have confidence?

Perhaps, instead of trying to kill off Rick Kordowski's Solicitors from Hell, the Law Society and Bar Council should be prompting their members to start thinking and acting to ensure clients are satisfied, well-served, and confident in the legal profession.

Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, wrote recently that customer service will be the key criterion
What is important here is the introduction of the concept of customer service as a basic standard against which barristerial actions are to be judged.  I know from my own experience that the vast majority of barristers take their responsibility to their client as their central, driving motivation.  However, there remain a small number of the profession who see customer service as something which is wholly the responsibility of the solicitor and therefore not a matter with which they need to concern themselves.  It is this small group who may struggle to adjust to the new reality.
Barristers, it seems, have not yet adjusted to a non-adversarial complaints system where they can "prove" their innocence. That will be only one part of the process.

Lawyers must realize that the new world of legal services won't wait for them to catch up from the 19th century to the 21st. We know other suppliers will jump in and begin to mop up. It might be Coop or it might be Quality Solicitors, but it won't be the lawyers who stand there with question marks over their heads. Whoever works out that consistently good service across all fronts to all clients improves business will win.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Lawyers, the Comorra, and Dutch Auctions

(thanks to movieaddicts)

There's a scene in Gomorrah (about the Neopolitan Comorra) where dress-makers compete to win an haute couture contract for a major clothing designer. They are asked to bid for the work in money and time--the lowest amount for each. Pasquale pleads with his boss not to go below a certain number of days which of course he does to win the contract. It's a reverse auction. These are also known as Dutch auctions, in contrast to "normal" English auctions where the price ascends not declines (see Smith 1990: 120). Later in the film Pasquale sees Scarlett Johansson on TV wearing one of his dresses.

Dutch auctions are very desirable for buyers of services although not so good for the sellers. Lawyers are now finding out what it is like to be on the receiving end of a Dutch auction. With a hat tip to my friend, Peter Lederer, the Wall St Journal has run a fascinating article on the machinations of corporate counsel to impel lawyers and law firms to embrace reverse auctions. (Here's an alternative location if it's hiding behind Murdoch's paywall.)

Here's the opening:
Spurred on by budget pressures, companies' use of a controversial auction process to negotiate contracts with law firms has surged in recent years, a trend that could eventually reduce the revenue attorneys can expect to reap from clients.

Several big companies—including GlaxoSmithKline PLC, eBay Inc., Toyota Motor Corp. and Sun Microsystems—have used the tactic, known as reverse auctions or competitive bidding, to pressure law firms to lower prices, especially on high-volume work such as tax filings and intellectual-property transactions. Many lawyers now worry these auction-based pricing strategies are spreading to more complex projects.

"Is it making all of us uncomfortable? Yes. Especially when you start to move away from the more routine sort of work," says Toby Brown, the director of pricing at Vinson & Elkins LLP.

What is interesting is that this isn't being done through beauty parades and pitches but instead through websites where law firms bid against each other and against the clock. Sounds like a chess game, no?

Despite the tender feelings of law firms and lawyer that this might all be a bit infra dig--"not very professional is it, old chap?"--it's gathering pace and market share.
Ariba Inc., the maker of one of the main reverse-auction software tools, claims that around 40% of today's market for legal work—a threefold increase from just a few years ago—is contracted through electronic, online means, most of which involve a reverse auction, according to Sundar Kamakshisundaram, a marketing manager for the company.

And David Baumann, general counsel for TechNexxus LLC, which helps companies cut down on legal, technology and business-services costs, says more than a third of the work they do involves reverse auctions, about four times more than in 2008.

Lawyers will plead that their work is complex and varied and can't be priced like other products. It doesn't really wash when one sees investment banks pricing complicated deals every day. How many other suppliers are able to say, "I won't tell you the price now. Wait until I think I've done enough, then I'll let you know."
As one general counsel so aptly put it:
"Every lawyer will tell you that every piece of work they do is incredibly important and risky and has to be custom-made, and that's just nonsense," says Jeff Carr, FMC Technologies' general counsel. "No matter how legally brilliant you are, there is always an alternative."
What's the difference between a loaf of bread and a lawyer? You eat one and the other eats you.

Smith, Charles W. 1990, Auctions: The Social Construction of Value. California.