Willing Blindness? OSS Complaints Handling Procedures, Research Study 37
116 Pages Posted: 15 May 2012 Last revised: 16 May 2012
Date Written: May 14, 2012
The following summary dates from the report's original publication in 2000. It forms part of the history of concer about professional self regulation which led to the Law Society being stripped of its powers to adjudicate onnconsumer compliants.
This report was submitted to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) in May 1999. Since then there has been a change in leadership of the OSS, an increase in resources and a recruitment campaign aimed at increasing the staffing levels in the Office. It is not known how far the changes made will address the problems recorded in this report. These problems largely relate to management and quality of work within the OSS. Past experience of change in the OSS and its predecessors suggest the need for wariness in accepting that change has secured improvement.
Two strong findings set the tone for much of the other evidence on the OSS’s performance in complaints handling. Firstly, the Office is overwhelmed by substantial delay. This seriously undermines the entire performance of the organisation. The second finding is poor management. The guardian of standards for client care cannot command much respect where delay and poor management are two of its own strongest failings. The whole management structure and approach is geared towards tackling as many cases as quickly as possible and yet it is a structure and approach that is failing.
Speed and volume are the only performance indicators consistently and meaningfully employed throughout the organisation. Other quality controls within the organisation are at best diffuse and uncoordinated: they risk being significantly compromised by the dominant ethos of speed and volume. At worst, maintenance of quality is either willfully ignored, or subjected to a ‘willing blindness’ whereby talk of client-focus and quality service is simply window dressing or rendered meaningless by the pressure to close cases. To paraphrase one of the caseworkers, it is a case of targets first, second and third.
In spite of this, the Office was, by its own confession, failing to meet its own performance criteria. The stated reason was an overwhelming increase in the number of complaints and a need for a substantial increase in resources. This research has found a number of problems in casework procedure and performance which are, in part, symptomatic of problems of lack of resources, delay and overburdened caseworkers. The OSS’s problems are not, however, attributable solely to lack of resources. Indeed, some of these issues, if sensibly addressed, might increase efficiency and would certainly increase case quality.
These findings call into question the capacity of the Office as currently structured and managed to investigate complaints adequately. There are significant causes for concern with the mode of management within the organisation and the way that casework is conducted.
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