Complaints and the Legal Ombudsman

We are required by virtue of Chapter 1 of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2011 to have a process for responding to client complaints. As a small firm, it is more important that we seek to deal with any hint of a complaint by dealing with this at the first opportunity.

What is a complaint?

We define complaint as any expression of dissatisfaction.   The client that complains to the receptionist or makes some remark about costs, returning of calls etc is a complaint and our staff has had training on picking up such remarks so that we can deal with any level of dissatisfaction at the first possible opportunity.   We do not wait or focus on formal complaints: letters or emails that clearly state that they are a complaint.

The importance of meeting client expectation.

The Legal Ombudsman found that 82% of clients would choose a lawyer based on the recommendation of friends, family or colleagues.  As a very small firm, this is even more important in our case.

It is our duty to act with integrity and maintain the public’s trust in the profession.

Handling complaints effectively and fairly is an important part of maintaining trust in the profession. Chapter 1 of the SRA Code includes outcomes that must be met in relation to complaints handling. It states we must deal with client’s complaints promptly, fairly, openly and effectively (O1.11). It also requires us to provide clients with information on the complaints handling process (O 1.9 and 1.10). Thus, there is a regulatory imperative to handle complaints well.

The Legal Ombudsman will consider how we have handled a complaint when reaching a decision about a matter referred to them. Failing to deal with a complaint properly may lead the Ombudsman to consider that we have provided poor service, even if the initial complaint was unfounded.

Who can complain?

Most complaints to a practice are likely to come from clients. However, others, including beneficiaries, third parties, other professionals and suppliers, may also complain. We must handle complaints from clients in accordance with the Code.

Telling clients about their rights

Outcome 1.9 in the SRA Code says that you must inform clients in writing of their right to complain and how complaints can be made at the outset of their matter.

Outcome 1.10 says that we must signpost client’s, in writing, to the Legal Ombudsman at the start of the retainer and at the end of your complaints process. You must provide clients with details for contacting the Legal Ombudsman and the time frame for doing so.

Clients must be informed of their right to complain about or challenge their bill. Clients can challenge their bill by applying for an assessment of the bill under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974. You should inform clients that the Legal Ombudsman may not consider a complaint about the bill if a client has applied to the court for assessment of the bill. You must also inform clients about when you may be able to charge interest on all, or part of, a bill.

Complaints handling process

All our staff understand the complaints process and their role in it. Not every complaint needs to be dealt with through a formal process: if we receive a complaint about a failure to return a phone call, for example, this may be resolved by the recipient promptly calling back and apologising.

However, if the complaint is in the form of a formal letter to the partner responsible for handling complaints, then a response in accordance with the formal complaint-handling process from a senior member of staff is probably more appropriate.

Acknowledging your complaint and timescale

We aim to acknowledge complaints within three working days of receipt. You will not be charged for any work that we undertake in investigating or resolving your complaint and that includes all telephone calls and face to face meetings.

How we investigate a complaint?

We will approach any complaint with an open mind. We will treat each complainant as an individual and each complaint on its merits. We will record the fact there has been a complaint, what we have found and more importantly what action if any we have taken to rectify matters.

We must respond to your complainant within eight weeks.  We will respond through your preferred medium.  If that is face to face we will do so, but in any event we will write to you with our findings.

If we find evidence of poor service we will acknowledge this and provide an appropriate remedy. This might include:

  • an apology
  • compensation for loss suffered
  • compensation for inconvenience, distress or both
  • putting things right
  • reducing the bill or limiting fees.

If we find that there has been no poor service we will explain why we have come to this conclusion.  Where possible we will provide evidence of why we say the service was reasonable.  In any event, we will signpost you to the Legal Ombudsman at the end of your complaints process.

 Maintaining an ongoing relationship while a complaint is in existence

Should you seek to re-instruct us or to continue with a retainer where matters remain unresolved, we must consider whether we can continue to act under the circumstances.

Two of the factors we will consider is whether we can effectively quarantine the dispute from the rest of the retainer, or whether the relationship deteriorated to the extent that you should not continue to act for the client.

We have found that by putting a complaints procedure in place will help staff and clients handle complaints swiftly and hopefully effectively.

Recording your complaint

As part of our commitment to improve the quality of service we will keep records of your complaint to allow us to monitor the services we provide.  This will allow us to:

  • Identify trends in complaints and areas of service needing improvement.
  • Assess whether policy or procedure changes are reducing the level of complaints.
  • Assess the effectiveness of your complaints management process in resolving complaints internally.
  • Build up an understanding of appropriate remedies to common complaints.

What can you do if you are unhappy with our response or handling of your complaint?

The Legal Ombudsman is an independent ombudsman scheme that resolves complaints about lawyers. It was set up under the Legal Services Act 2007.

The Legal Ombudsman will normally only consider a complaint after the complainant has made the complaint to the practice and the practice has failed to resolve it to the complainant’s satisfaction.

Once a complaint is referred to the Legal Ombudsman, a caseworker at will investigate the

What remedies are available?

The Legal Ombudsman can order us to:

  • apologise
  • pay a specified amount for loss suffered
  • pay interest on that compensation from a specified time
  • pay a specified amount for inconvenience/distress caused
  • ensure that (and pay for) any specified error, omission or other deficiency is put right
  • take (and pay for) any specified action in the interests of the complainant
  • pay a specified amount for costs the complainant incurred in pursuing the complaint
  • limit fees to a specified amount.

The Legal Ombudsman can order compensation of up to £50,000.

What complaints can the Ombudsman consider?

The Legal Ombudsman can consider complaints about services provided by a regulated lawyer to:

  • the complainant
  • another authorised person who procured them on behalf of the complainant
  • a personal representative or trustee, where the complainant is a beneficiary of the estate or trust
  • a complainant who was offered, or refused, legal services.

The Legal Ombudsman will not normally consider complaints that are more than six years old, or where it is three years since the complainant ought to have been aware of the problem.However, this limit is being introduced gradually, and the matter being complained about must have happened on or after 6 October 2010. If the problem happened earlier than this date, you must not have been aware of it before 6 October 2010.

We very much hope that we can resolve issues in an amicable way.  We would not have deliberately done or acted in any way that was not in your interest, because to do so would mean we were not acting in the Firms best interest.  We have a common goal to get the best result for you at the best price.  Should we fail to deal with your complaint and you feel it necessary to refer this matter to the legal ombudsman then we can confirm that we will work closely with the ombudsman and provide whatever assistance we can, to resolve this matter amicably.

 

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