Kerry Underwood


with 2 comments


The Legal Ombudsman investigates, and seeks to resolve, complaints about the service provided by lawyers.

In his March 2012 report he states that the term client “embodies the traditional view of the relationship between lawyers and those they represent” and that the “notion of a consumer turns this relationship on its head.  In most businesses, the consumer has the power and can choose which services to buy from which provider”.

The Ombudsman’s suggestion is that many of the perceived problems with lawyers could be solved by a change of name and culture; everything will be fine if we are all consumers, conveniently ignoring the dreadful service that we consumers get from the banks, the utilities, insurance companies etc.

The attempt to turn all clients, patients, pupils, parishioners, passengers, constituents, readers, theatre-goers  etc. into consumers is Orwellian.  It equates law, medicine, teaching, religion, democracy and the rule of law itself to the equivalent of a packet of cornflakes.  For many of us the low point of the last Government was the fatuous statement of the Minister for Justice that obtaining legal advice should be no different from buying baked beans.  It is the language of the lowest common denominator.

It is true that the term “client” or indeed “patient” denotes dependency but why should that be considered a bad thing?

Far from being undesirable, surely mutual dependency is the hallmark of a civilized society.  One is dependent upon a doctor, one’s children are dependent upon teachers, one is dependent upon a pilot when you fly, a plumber when you have a leak etc.  What is wrong with that?

The logic of consumerism is each person for him or herself, which is why it is a right-wing concept – think United States of America.  Now, there may be a legitimate view that “there is no such thing as society”, that there should be no mutual dependency, but rather each person for himself and devil take the hindmost, but will the bleeding-heart brigade please recognize that consumerism is Thatcherite, right-wing ultra-conservative philosophy?

Recently I flew back from Barcelona and the plane hit severe turbulence.  The pilot was re-assuring and handled everything superbly and landed us safely.  All of us were totally dependent upon him, a trained pilot.  I was also glad that I was flying with British Airways and not a budget airline.

Is there any difference between that situation and a trained lawyer guiding a client through the personal storms that life throws up?

Client is a term of respect for the client.  Consumer is not; indeed the dictionary definition of “consume” is:

Destroy, occupy or waste time, spend (money or goods) especially wastefully, use so as to destroy; take up and exhaust; use up, eat up, drink down; devour, waste away with disease or grief, decay, rot, burn away

The very language is absurd – imagine – “I must finish this now – I have a consumer waiting”.

Law is an art and not a science.  Hermann Hesse, in The Glass Bead Game, tells of a society where all art and emotion is reduced to a mathematical formula represented in a three-dimensional glass bead game, and then demonstrates the fallacy of this uber-rational view of human behaviour.

The Legal Ombudsman belittles and demeans the very people he purports to represent. He patronizes them in the way that he thinks that we do.

So, with Easter here, reflect upon the Last Supper and Jesus and his Twelve Consumers.



Written by kerryunderwood

April 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] is simply a product and the market should simply be allowed to operate, although many others would take issue with that view. Those in need of advice may think of law clinics as some kind of pacifying sop. Certain law […]

    • Read Malcolm Combe’s new blog on what it means to be a lawyer, and as always, for a view of legal matters from North of the border – Scotland has so far avoided many of the mistakes that we have made in England, and has not been LASPOED or Jacksoned.


      August 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: