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Lawyers must do more to signpost watchdog’s complaint procedure

Clients are losing their chance to rectify poor service because they don't know where to go, says LeO

18 August 2016

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Law firms should do more to make clients aware of their right to complain about poor service by lawyers, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has declared.

Following a survey of the 3,680 consumers, just one in five had heard about the watchdog's complaints scheme from their legal service provider.

In a separate review of 100 cases, 72 per cent of firms had provided no signposting information or provided incorrect information.

Kathryn Stone OBE, the chief ombudsman, said: 'Many people could be losing their chance to put things right after receiving poor service, simply because they don't know where to go.

'Legal regulations are quite clear that lawyers should be telling clients about how to complain if they are unhappy, and that they can bring a complaint to LeO if they're dissatisfied with their lawyer's handling of a complaint.'

Consumers' lack of LeO awareness may be a factor in the 10 per cent fall in complaints the watchdog received over the last three years - from 20,000 in 2012/13 to just over 18,000 in 2014/15.

Of the 6,500 complaints resolved by LeO last year, residential conveyancing was the most complained about area of law, accounting for almost a quarter (22 per cent), a likely result of the upturn in the housing market.

Family law (14 per cent), personal injury (12 per cent), and wills and probate (13 per cent) were the other main areas of complaint.

As a result, the ombudsman has published a free signposting pack to help lawyers.

A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said: 'Solicitors have a responsibility, as set out in our code of conduct, to inform clients of their right to complain and the process involved from the outset.

'We are part funding, with the other legal regulators, joint research into client care letters, so that we better understand how firms are providing that information.

'Firms also have a duty to record the number and nature of complaints they receive. Collecting this information helps them to identify areas for improvement.'

The latest finding comes a week after the SRA was criticised for failing to inform claimants of their right to recover losses from the Solicitors Compensation Fund (SCF).

The regulator said it was working with the LeO and Citizens Advice to ensure 'clarity around the process' for making a claim to the SCF.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal 

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