Specialist employment law firm Law at Work has been ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ensure its website does not mislead potential clients by omitting material information about the redress available in the event of a complaint against the firm.
A complaint had been brought on the basis that it had not been made clear that redress was not available by the normal route for a conventional law firm.
At the time of the complaint, in July 2017, under the tab "What we do/Employment law", text stated: "We occupy that neat space in between the traditional employment law firms and the republic of fixed-fee providers... Our all-inclusive fixed-fee service gives you comprehensive support for your business on all aspects of employment law and HR. With that you get a team of experienced, employment lawyers who'll work with you”.
In response to the complaint, Law at Work believed it did not state or imply anywhere on its website that it was a law firm (conventional or otherwise) and/or that it was regulated by the Law Society of Scotland. Its ads deliberately contrasted Law at Work's approach to that of a traditional law firm; clients were specifically told of Law at Work’s complaints procedure when they signed up, and those who took out its insurance were also advised of the complaints process as it applied to Financial Conduct Authority-regulated businesses.
All its employment law work was carried out by qualified solicitors who were regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, and any issues in relation to the work of a specific individual could be referred to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Both owners of the firm were also qualified solicitors. The firm also provided HR and health and safety services for employers, which it believed was unlike most law firms, and these services were not said to be carried out by solicitors. Its services were aimed at employers and it did not believe its target market could be in any doubt as to its status, or mistake it for a regulated law firm.
In its ruling the ASA acknowledged that the text quoted suggested that Law at Work was not a conventional employment law firm. However, in the context in which it appeared, the ASA considered that potential clients would interpret the ad to mean that Law at Work "nevertheless provided similar legal assistance and expertise and that there might be cost saving, time saving or other advantages for potential clients but that other aspects, such as accountability and the process for obtaining redress in the event of a complaint, would be no different from those of a conventional law firm".
The ruling continued: "We acknowledged the routes for obtaining redress in the event of a complaint that Law at Work had set out. However, Law at Work could not provide the route for obtaining redress that would be available to clients of a qualified and regulated solicitor in a regulated law firm. We considered that was material information, necessary for potential clients to be aware of when making a decision about where to obtain their legal services, which was not explained in the ad. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading."
The ad was found to breach rules 3.1 and 3.3 of the CAP Code and the ASA ordered that it must not appear again in the form complained of. "We told Law at Work to ensure their ads did not mislead by omitting material information that was necessary for potential clients to be aware of when making a decision about where to obtain their legal services such as, that the route for obtaining redress in the event of a complaint was not the route that would be available to clients of a qualified and regulated solicitor in a regulated law firm."