Legal regulation catching up - and fast
Yesterday saw the first publication of the SRA's "Handbook". The adoption of FSA terminology and approach continues.
But where the SRA follows, the Legal Ombudsman dares to lead. Having adopted rules similar to FOS, the Legal Ombudsman launched a consultation at the end of March on publicising complaints, naming (and shaming) the lawyers involved.
In launching its Handbook, the SRA says "Our approach to regulation is outcomes-focused and risk-based so that clients receive services in a way that best suits their own needs". The Handbook is laid out much like the FSA's, with high-level Principles at the top. The SRA's Principles run to only 10 (unlike the FSA which needs 11). Solicitors have six months before the implementation of the Handbook on 6 October 2011.
The Legal Ombudsman's consultation opened on 31 March with an express preference for a staged approach towards publication of complaints about individual lawyers. They say "We consider that this is in line with our principles, as it will allow us to quickly begin to publish information that will enable us to be open about how we work and that will help lawyers and consumers". They propose the following:
- "Stage one: publishing anonymous case studies immediately.
- Stage two: publishing anonymous summaries of all formal decisions in the summer of 2011.
- Stage three: tracking our data over the next nine months, with a view to making a decision about whether we identify individual firms in early 2012."
The Legal Ombudsman has already received feedback. Unsurprisingly, the feedback from consumers has been largely supportive but that from lawyers has been against the idea.
The FOS' aspirations for transparency were revived in its publication 'Our plans for a changing world' which identifies as one of the priorities for the coming year: "Engage with stakeholders on the practicalities involved in our publishing ombudsman decisions".
It will be interesting to watch the consultation process of the Legal Ombudsman and whether it or FOS will be first to identify individual firms. The Legal Ombudsman seems to have taken an early lead.