The European Union has stipulated that consumers who buy a product or service online should be able to submit complaints to the supplier via an EU Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, so – from 15 February 2016 – all e-commerce businesses must carry a link to this platform on their website. The complaint, once submitted, will be transmitted to a recognised alternative dispute resolution entity to try to facilitate a solution.
It appears that law firms are probably caught by these regulations as providers of legal services, so the safest approach is … to comply and then make the most of this approach to improve client satisfaction.
Weightmans Solicitors, which advises on regulatory issues in respect of law firms, has advised members of Manchester Law Society to update their websites to include the ODR EU Platform link due to a new EU requirement that came into effect on 15th February 2016 – and they practice what they preach here where you will find their wording for this on their own site.
Why Lawyers Should Take Steps Now to Comply
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) considers that the regulations will affect law firms who send or receive contracts and client-care information by email as this constitutes “offering goods or services on a website or by other electronic means”.
An advert for legal services on a website is not an offer; merely an invitation to treat, but emailing a contract or an engagement letter might be construed as an offer “by other electronic means.”
To comply with the regulations, businesses MUST provide:
1. A link to the ODR platform
2. The firm’s email address
The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will continue as one option to resolve any complaints, but there is also an obligation to nominate a certified ADR entity such as ProMediate (with particular experience of legal services) to mediate complaints and claims.
- LeO is not a certified ADR provider, so complaints coming though the EU’s ODR system cannot be referred to them.
- ProMediate offer faster turnaround times than the LeO, which both law firms and their clients generally want, which increases satisfaction with the complaints process.
- Many clients will prefer engagement in the dispute resolution approach in contrast to a complaints process.
Even if the LeO become an approved ADR provider in the future – which is unlikely as they decided NOT to do this in early December 2015 – there would still be a requirement (in addition to any existing regulatory requirements under relevant Codes of Conduct) for law firms to provide information regarding the ODR platform to clients by email and in Terms and Conditions.
We recommend that law firms should:
- Include a link to the EU ODR platform on their website; and,
- Identify and nominate an appropriate certified ADR entity to deal with:
- At least any complaints that are initiated through that platform; but also,
- Other disputes that arise with clients if they or you consider mediation is a more attractive approach than making a complaint to an Ombudsman in the circumstances.
- Nominate ProMediate as your certified ADR entity because they have all the accreditations needed, commit to a short turnaround time, charge a reasonable fee and have experience with legal services.
For more information about how to comply or about nominating ProMediate, contact Peter Causton on 07827 961764 in confidence to explore options; or by email to email@example.com options.
ProMediate is a CTSI Certified Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider under the ADR Regulations 2015 and have partnered with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to deliver a dispute resolution service to their c. 4,500 members.