Sometimes people are dissatisfied with the service they have received from their legal adviser and wish to make a complaint.
Issues may include costs not being as expected, paperwork going missing or delays in progressing the case as well as more serious matters such as negligence or discrimination
The first steps
It is advisable to try and resolve the complaint with the legal adviser in the first instance. If this is not successful then the Claimant will need to make his complaint through the law firm’s internal complaints procedure. All firms are required to have a written complaints procedure and a copy of this procedure should be available on request.
If the legal adviser has discriminated against the Claimant or has been negligent, the Claimant may be able to take legal action against the solicitor as well as making a complaint and will need to obtain legal advice.
Writing the complaint
The letter of complaint should contain an outline of the reasons for the complaint, giving the name of the legal adviser, what he had been engaged to do and dates and examples of when the problems occurred. It may be useful to state the effect that the issues have had on the Claimant or others involved.
Details of the actions necessary for the legal adviser to resolve the problem should be included. These may be anything from an apology to a payment of money in compensation for loss, or the Claimant may wish the adviser to do more work to correct the matter or return outstanding documents.
A law firm is required to respond formally to any complaint and should be given a deadline (say 7 days) by which they should contact the Claimant before he follows it up.
Taking the complaint further
If the matter is still not satisfactorily resolved the Claimant may take the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
The Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints against many types of legal advisers including solicitors, barristers, legal executives, licensed conveyancers and claims management companies.
Anyone who is unsure whether or not his complaint can be dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman can contact the helpline for further advice.
The Legal Ombudsman must be contacted within 6 months of the final response from the legal adviser. He will require the name and address of the legal adviser, the date of the complaint to the legal adviser and details of the response received.
What will the Legal Ombudsman do?
In the first instance the Legal Ombudsman will try to resolve the complaint informally. Where this is not possible, the complaint will be investigated formally and the Claimant will have the opportunity to state his case in writing.
Once the Legal Ombudsman agrees that the service from the legal adviser has been unsatisfactory, he may ask the legal adviser to do any of the following:
• Apologise to the Claimant
• Return any necessary documents
• Pay compensation for loss, inconvenience or distress (up to £50,000)
• If possible, carry out more work to correct matters that have gone wrong
• Refund or reduce legal fees
Once the Claimant accepts the decision of the Legal Ombudsman it is final and binding.
If the Legal Ombudsman believes the legal adviser may have broken any of the rules of professional conduct, he will refer the complaint to the appropriate regulatory body.
In the case of a complaint against a solicitor the case would be referred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) who would investigate the matter further.
In serious cases this could lead to the solicitor being disciplined or struck off – meaning they would no longer be able to work as a solicitor.
If the Claimant has incurred losses due to his solicitor’s actions or dishonesty the SRA can also help to get money refunded.
SRA Contact centre