In Practice: Naming, shaming and striking

"I think it would be very boring dramatically to have a film where everybody was a lawyer or doctor and had no faults. To me, the most important thing is to be truthful."
- Spike Lee

The biggest story this week emanated from the Legal Ombudsman on Monday, when they (?he - they refer to themselves in the plural, although their title is in the singular) issued a Press Release announcing that: "It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances." The particular circumstances are: "where there is a pattern of complaints or when it is in the public interest to do so". In addition, we are told:
"Every three months the Legal Ombudsman will also publish lawyers’ names and firms involved in all complaints that have been resolved by a formal Ombudsman decision. This means that examples of good practice as well as bad will be there for all to see."
So, in this brave new world having a complaint against your firm could actually be a good thing.

Unsurprisingly, consumer organisations have welcomed the move. Equally predictably, the Law Society has not. The Gazette quotes 'a Law Society spokesperson' (wonder why they are not named?) as saying:
"The lack of data about the size of firms or the number of transactions they undertake means that publication will penalise firms who do high volumes of work even where they have had relatively few complaints. It will also disproportionately affect those solicitors who work in certain areas of law where the level of complaints are higher."
... such as family law. Further:
"... as the ombudsman does not have jurisdiction over all legal service providers, many of which are unregulated, such as will writers, the name and shame approach does not give the consumer a true reflection of the market and is far from transparent."
All of which seem to me to be perfectly reasonable objections to naming and shaming, but then I would say that - I am one of those awful solicitors, aren't I? The objections are, however, cursorily brushed aside in this article, that appeared in The Guardian yesterday.

This emotive issue was also taken up by Solicitors Journal, which told us that Liz France, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, believes that, rather than large firms, it will be sole practitioners and barristers who will be most at risk from the new policy "because they are individuals". She has a point - being named and shamed could potentially put an individual lawyer out of business. Now, the public may say that that is no bad thing...

Moving on, but still on the subject of barristers, the Bar held its annual conference on the 5th of November (is there any significance in that date?). The Gazette reports that the other side of the profession were in a militant mood, with Max Hill QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, warning that criminal barristers were ready to take ‘direct action’ - including withdrawing their services - if the government presses ahead with its plans for price-competitive tendering. I know nothing at all about this issue, but somehow I doubt that the threat of barristers going on strike is going to be of much concern to those in Westminster. Still, it might be interesting to see our be-wigged brothers picketing the courts...

Finally, Legalweek informed us that: "Many of the UK’s top law firms are reporting rising revenues for the first half of 2011-12, despite protracted instability across Europe and lingering fears of a double-dip recession." Nice to hear, but to be honest it wasn't the story that attracted me to this piece, but rather the picture of poor Tim Eyles, managing partner of Taylor Wessing, who suffered a particularly severe scalping by the News Editor. Just glad they won't be doing a piece about me...