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Those in legal careers are just too terrifying for words

Posted by: Laurence Simons 18/10/12

If you are doing October correctly you will have slacked off on the whole 'being a lawyer' thing and spent the month rustling together the perfect Halloween outfit. Seriously, jeez: Do you want to be one of those vast lot of idiots queuing up around the corner of a costume store on the 30th, desperately paying £400 for a four-pack of Teletubby outfits and a blister-pack of fake blood? You do not. So, in an ideal world, you will have already taken a good fortnight off work, trawling around for the perfect vampire cape, experimenting in the mirror with various blends of deathly-looking face paints. What do you mean, no?

Anyway, irrelevant. Because according to a recent bit of YouGov research, if you dress like a lawyer, act like a lawyer and actually have a legal career, you're already decked out as one of the scariest things there is. Forget werewolves: lawyers are scary. But that isn't necessarily a good thing.

Well, it is and it isn't. As the research - commissioned by the Legal Ombudsman and the Legal Services Board Consumer Panel - shows, lawyers are scariest to their own clients. A survey of 1,010 'premature complainants' showed reluctance among people to take their lawyers to task before turning to the Legal Ombudsman. This was especially found to be true when a case was ongoing. So while being scary in court might well help you squeeze an extra millo or two out of an adulterous husband or patent trolling corporation, it's not so good when it comes to the complainant process.

Why is this important? It's important because, as legal ombudsman Adam Sampson notes in the Guardian, if lawyers aren't dealing directly with their own complaints then they are becoming too slow to react and adapt their practices to consumer demand. Which means they are missing out on clients. Which means they are missing out on money, duh.

"Complaints have been a vexed and unhappy question in the legal profession for years," writes Sampson. But not one, it seems, that is actually being alleviated by the setting up of the Legal Ombudsman back in 2010. The very same YouGov research found that the majority of potential complainants (53 per cent) were dissuaded from actually making a complaint because the Legal Ombudsman website was so muddied with misinformation. The service has since made changes to make the information available clearer, but still.

The root question here really should be, 'yes but is the client happy?' - especially with the shift in power evident through 2012 from private practice firms to in-house. It's indicative of corporations appreciating a more considered, personal approach, and one legal firms could do well to adapt to. As this research seems to suggest, being more receptive to complainants may well be the first step towards making a practice more client-friendly and, ultimately, driving more business in. So drop the Halloween wolf mask and make yourself more approachable.