rblog

Knowledge is power

By Laura Holloway on 19 January 2015

Our most recent poll asked you to choose from a selection of risks not featured in the Outlook, and select the one you’d like to know a little more about. The winner, with 36% of the votes, was inadequate complaints handling.

Some people have an unhappy experience, but don’t complain

In May of last year, research found that nearly half of these individuals who were dissatisfied with the legal services they received didn’t do anything about it. This is a higher figure than some other industries, suggesting that when something goes wrong, clients of law firms may face more barriers to complaining.

Different perceptions

We have found that many law firms take a positive approach to handling complaints , with some firms managing client complaints in an exemplary way. However, occasionally we do come across the perception that all client complaints are vexatious and simply an attempt to reduce a fee. We have also seen issues where the firm doesn’t learn from a complaint and so continues to receive similar complaints.

The person complaining and the law firm will often have a different perception of what’s happened, which is one of the reasons why this subject often raises strong emotions. For example, a misunderstanding of initial information could cause a client to have unrealistic expectations about time, price, or likelihood of success, and leave a firm confused as to why the client was unhappy.

While each complaint has its own individual circumstances, better complaint handling drives benefits such as reduced stress and cost. Regulatory costs will reduce the more firms and consumers can resolve matters between themselves.

A way forward

Although complaints handling is a complex issue, better consumer information about legal services is one way to improve people’s ability to complain. With consumer protection and access to justice at the core of regulation, we’re committed to providing useful help and information to consumers.

In 2013, the Legal Choices website was created to provide information on law, legal issues and lawyers to consumers in a user-friendly format. There’s a dedicated section on how to make a complaint, should the need arise. The old saying "knowledge is power" certainly rings true; consumers who understand their rights, entitlements and protections should feel more empowered to seek redress if they need to. Well-informed consumers should also result in fewer frivolous complaints, saving firms valuable time and money.

As well as Legal Choices, there many useful places people can find information on what to do if they are not happy with legal services. For example, the Law Society has a useful FAQ section which covers making a complaint.

Complaints handling is evolving

The options for resolving complaints are evolving. The newly-created Retail Ombudsman is the first alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service in the sector, and expects up to 100,000 cases this year alone. As part of new EU legislation on ADR, membership to the scheme may eventually become mandatory across all consumer goods and services in the UK. In this context, it’s easy to see the importance of the Legal Ombudsman in our own sector.

A bit about the complaints process

Complaints about the service provided by a lawyer should first be directed to the law firm to deal with through their internal complaints procedure. If the client and firm are unable to reach a resolution, the client has the option to raise their complaint with the Legal Ombudsman.

We, on the other hand, deal with cases where lawyers fail to comply with their professional obligations. Some of these failures can also amount to poor service. Should the Legal Ombudsman identify a failure to comply, they will notify us. More information is available in our consumers section, under report a solicitor.

Laura Holloway is a Risk Analyst at the Solicitors Regulation Authority.