On 9 July 2015, the UK will be required to comply with the EU directive on alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
If the Legal Ombudsman is successful in its application to become an approved ADR provider under the directive, solicitors will need to make changes to the information they provide to clients in relation to their complaints procedures.
Solicitors should also be aware that one of the Legal Ombudsman’s time limits will change as a consequence of this legislation.
The information requirements of the directive, and subsequently the regulations, are very similar, although not identical to the existing requirements on firms.
The government has laid regulations (PDF) to bring in the changes. The changes which will affect solicitors directly are:
- Time limits: currently, following a first tier complaints process, a client has six months to lodge a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman. The new legislation will allow clients twelve months from the final letter from the solicitor in order to lodge a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman. LeO has provided guidance (PDF). It is important that the information provided to clients is amended to reflect this change.
- Website: if a solicitor has a website, the name and web address of the Legal Ombudsman must be provided on the website.
- General terms and conditions: the name and web address of the Legal Ombudsman must also be provided in the general terms and conditions of sales or service contracts between solicitors and clients.
- Complaints handling process: when a firm has exhausted its internal complaints handling procedure when considering a complaint from a client, they must inform the client, on a durable medium:
- that they cannot settle the complaint with the client
- of the name and web address of an ADR entity which would be competent to deal with the complaint, should the client wish to use alternative dispute resolution (ie the Legal Ombudsman)
- that the solicitor is obliged to submit to the ADR procedure operated by the Legal Ombudsman.
These requirements apply in addition to any information requirements already applicable to solicitors regarding redress. For examples, the requirements set out by the Legal Services Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The Law Society is closely monitoring developments around the implementation of the directive and will provide more information as it becomes available.
Please note: All of these changes are dependent on the Legal Ombudsman being successful in its application to become a certified entity under the EU directive. It is not expected that it will be unsuccessful.