22 Nov Legal ombudsman findings on ‘intimidating’ solicitors a sign change is needed
Recent findings by the Legal Ombudsman that complaining clients are intimidated by lawyers’ language and angered by a half-hearted approach to apologising, are proof that work still has to be done to improve legal interactions between solicitors and customers.
In the report, the ombudsman cited some solicitors using long or confusing words, as well as legal jargon, when dealing with clients. Also, a belief that if a complaint does progress, the communications imply the issue is not being taken seriously.
Additionally, it also found, that when it comes to rectifying a problem, some legal service providers stop short of an apology by offering phrases, such as ‘we understand your frustration’ rather than simply saying, ‘I’m sorry.’
As legal communications experts, these findings do not entirely surprise us, but equally, we have to say there are many solicitors who do approach things in the right way.
It’s acknowledged that much progress has been made in recent years to help give solicitors a more approachable, friendly reputation. However, some are still not quite there, and hold back the profession by talking in a way that makes clients feel uncomfortable.
Research, carried out by consultancy IFF, featured a consultation with legal ombudsman staff, followed by interviews with individuals and groups who had brought a complaint through the service and recently reached an outcome.
Consumers who had complained in the past, felt lawyers were too geared for self-preservation and tried to shift blame back onto them. The report also found apologies sometimes ‘buried’ within several other pages of material, and lacking compassion.
Worthy of note are those happy with their response said legal service providers had included an apology early on, and attempted to show how they had investigated the issue and acknowledged their own part in any problem.
It was also found to be reassuring if the law firm thanked them for bringing a problem to its attention, as well as details of how the investigation had been conducted.
The words of Simon Tunnicliffe, Director of Operations at the legal ombudsman’s office, is worth bearing in mind: ‘This new research emphasises that how professionals communicate and the language they use can have a huge impact on how a complaint is resolved and when,” he said.
We have to agree with the Legal Ombudsman’s conclusion. Approachability is a key skill that has to be worked on by some not used to a very changed legal landscape.
It isn’t difficult either. A willingness to listen to others from outside the profession, and acceptance that we live in a much changed world is a good starting point.
We hope the legal industry will take on board the findings and solicitors throughout the UK do all they can to ensure the less savoury characteristics associated with the profession, are soon properly consigned to history.
Nolan PR are legal communications specialists helping law firms talk clearly to their audiences in a way that will make them listen. If you need a fresh approach, contact us today.