Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Upheld. The other was informally resolved after the advertiser agreed to amend or withdraw their advertising.
A website for Law at Work Ltd, www.lawatwork.co.uk, seen on 28 July 2017, showed the heading "Law - LAW AT WORK - Minding your business" on the home page. Under the heading "Areas of Expertise", three sections of text and visuals were headed "Employment Law At Work"; "HR At Work" and "Safety At Work" respectively. 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 ..."
Under the tab "Employment Tribunal", text stated "We represent you - We keep all employment tribunal representation in-house. This will normally mean that the lawyer who supported you during the events leading to the claim will also defend you at a tribunal hearing".
The complainant, who understood the route for obtaining redress (a process for dealing with complaints) against the company was not available in the way it would normally be for a conventional law firm, challenged whether the ad was misleading because it did not make that clear.
Law at Work Ltd believed they did not state or imply anywhere on their website that they were a law firm (conventional or otherwise) and/or that Law at Work was regulated by the Law Society of Scotland. They considered their ads deliberately contrasted Law at Work's approach to that of a traditional law firm. They said their clients were specifically told of Law at Work’s complaints procedure when they signed up, and that those who took out their insurance were also advised of the complaints process as it applied to Financial Conduct Authority-regulated businesses.
Law at Work said all their employment law work was carried out by qualified solicitors who were regulated by the Law Society of Scotland. Any issues in relation to the work of a specific member of the employment law team could be referred to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission if the complaint related to the service received, or to the Law Society of Scotland if the complaint related to conduct. They said both owners of Law at Work were qualified solicitors, and so any complaints relating to their conduct in the running of the business could also be referred to the Law Society of Scotland.
Law at Work said that in addition to employment law, they also provided HR and health and safety services for employers, which they believed was unlike most law firms, and they did not hold out any of those individuals as being solicitors. They did not believe any employer (the group their services were aimed at) visiting their website could be in any doubt as to their status, nor mistake them for a regulated law firm.
The ASA acknowledged that the text "We occupy that neat space in between the traditional employment law firms and the republic of fixed-fee providers" suggested that Law at Work was not a conventional employment law firm. Nevertheless, that wording appeared in the context of the heading "Employment Law At Work" and other text which stated "... comprehensive support for your business on all aspects of employment law and HR", "... a team of experienced, employment lawyers who'll work with you" and "We represent you - We keep all employment tribunal representation in-house. This will normally mean that the lawyer who supported you during the events leading to the claim will also defend you at a tribunal hearing". We considered potential clients would interpret the ad to mean that, while Law at Work might not be a conventional law firm, they 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.
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 breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising).
The ad 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.