The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) received 673 complaints about legal practitioners over a five-month period to 3 September, according to its second complaints report for 2021.
The body said that 646 complaints were closed during the reporting period, which ran from 27 March.
A total of 32 complaints were closed by the independent Complaints Committee that was set up in 2020 to investigate complaints of alleged misconduct referred to it by the regulator.
Of the complaints received, 654 related to solicitors and 19 to barristers. The LSRA points out that multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.
Complaints from banks
A total of 443 complaints alleged misconduct, with 193 complaints about alleged inadequate standard of legal services, and a further 37 relating to alleged overcharging.
The regulator says that this trend is largely consistent with the pattern seen in the LSRA's three previous complaints reports, since it began receiving and investigating complaints about legal practitioners in October 2019.
The main areas that attracted complaints were litigation, family law, wills and probate, and conveyancing.
Banks made 123 complaints that were linked to outstanding solicitors' undertakings. These are commitments given by a solicitor that are relied upon, and are legally binding. Failure to comply with an undertaking is investigated as a complaint of alleged misconduct.
Almost half of the complaints closed during the reporting period were deemed to be inadmissible after consideration by the authority. A total of 275 were closed before a decision was made on whether the complaint was admissible, with just over two-thirds of these settled with the LSRA's assistance.
Practitioner told to pay €1,200
The LSRA says that its complaints staff issued directions to solicitors in 17 cases where complaints about inadequate legal services or excessive costs were upheld.
Two LSRA determinations that upheld complaints of inadequate standard of legal services were reviewed by the regulator's Review Committee, which confirmed both original determinations. In one of these complaints, the committee further directed that the legal practitioner pay compensation of €1,200 to the complainant.
An independent Complaints Committee, set up in November 2020 to hear misconduct allegations, heard 48 complaints, and closed 32 of these – all of which related to solicitors. Of these, the committee upheld ten complaints, and referred nine to the new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
In three of the ten complaints upheld by the committee, legal practitioners were ordered to pay the LSRA a total of €6,350 towards the costs of its investigations. In one complaint, a practitioner was told to pay a complainant €5,000 in compensation.
The LSRA's chief executive Dr Brian Doherty (pictured) said that the organisation had recruited more staff, and increased resources, to deal with the "high level" of complaints. He added that this had already reduced the timelines for decision-making.
While Dr Doherty described the level of engagement by some practitioners as “excellent”, he expressed concern that others were not engaging positively in attempts to settle complaints through informal resolution or mediation.