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Poor comms feature frequently in LSRA complaints
LSRA chief executive Brian Doherty

07 Apr 2022 / regulation Print

Poor comms regular feature of LSRA complaints

The first Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) report of 2022 today (7 April) details 822 complaints about legal practitioners in a six-month period, with 811 complaints closed.

The report sets out the number and nature of complaints about solicitors and barristers received and investigated during the reporting period of 4 September 2021 to 4 March 2022 

This includes a total of 46 complaints closed by the Complaints Committee set up in 2020 to investigate complaints of alleged misconduct referred to it by the LSRA.

Positive engagement

LSRA chief executive Dr Brian Doherty said this morning that he was pleased to see an ongoing trend of a high number of complaints being resolved by legal practitioners and complainants through early positive engagement.

“This once again demonstrates that legal practitioners who are able to take a positive and proactive approach to resolving complaints can assist in having the matters dealt with in a timely and pragmatic manner.

“We are obliged to both legal practitioners and complainants who engage with the process in this way,” he said.

Failure to communicate remains a significant feature of most complaints received by the LSRA, with complainants citing lengthy delays in responding to client queries or instructions.

These are often categorised as ‘services of an inadequate standard’. 

Fellow practitioners

The LSRA also receives complaints about legal practitioners not responding promptly, or at all, to communications from fellow legal practitioners.

Under the act, these complaints may be treated as allegations of misconduct. Legal practitioners, when making such complaints to the LSRA, often state that they are doing so reluctantly, and only after several reminder letters have been sent.

The regulatory authority adds that a client should not be put in the position of complaining to the LSRA, simply to find out what is happening in legal proceedings in which they are involved.

A number of complaints in each reporting period could have been avoided by legal practitioners dealing promptly with correspondence, the authority points out. 

Total complaints

A total of 799 complaints related to solicitors, and 23 to barristers – reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.

Multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.

A total of 577 complaints (70%) alleged misconduct, with 213 (26%) alleging an inadequate standard of legal services. A further 32 (4%) came under the category of alleged excessive costs (overcharging).

The main areas of legal services that attracted complaints were litigation, family law, probate and conveyancing.

This breakdown of complaints follows the pattern in the LSRA’s four previous complaints reports since it began receiving and investigating legal-practitioner complaints in October 2019.

Complaints continue to rise, and those relating to alleged misconduct continue to rise as a proportion of the total (70% in this reporting period compared with 66% and 57% in the previous two reporting periods).

Complaints of inadequate legal services continue to fall, however (26% in this reporting period compared with 29% and 36% in the last two reporting periods).

Complaints relating to excessive costs also continued to fall (4% in this reporting period, down from 5% and 7% in the last two reporting periods).

The LSRA’s Complaints and Resolutions staff received a total of 1,802 phone calls and emails requesting information and/or complaints forms.

In all, 811 complaints were closed during the reporting period. These comprised:

  • 342 complaints (42%) closed before a decision was made as to whether the complaint was admissible,
  • Of these, 225 were resolved with the assistance of the LSRA, 90 were withdrawn, 14 deferred and a further 13 complaints could not proceed for a variety of other reasons,
  • 469 complaints (58%) that were closed at or post-admissibility. Of these, 376 complaints were deemed inadmissible by the LSRA,
  • A further 12 complaints were resolved in the informal-resolution process with the help of the LSRA’s trained mediators – 36 were determined by the LSRA, and 46 were closed by the Complaints Committee. 

LSRA complaints determinations

The LSRA’s complaints staff made determinations in a total of 39 complaints of inadequate standard of legal services and excessive costs.

Of these, 33 complaints were upheld and six were not upheld. In upheld complaints, the LSRA made directions for payments by legal practitioners of compensation to their clients of between €500 and €2,500.

In one complaint where the LSRA determined that the legal costs charged were excessive, the legal practitioner was directed to waive fees of €2,000.

Transfer file

In another, where the LSRA determined that the legal services provided were inadequate, the legal practitioner was directed to transfer the file held by them, and pay compensation of €2,000 to the client. 

In one complaint where the LSRA determined that the legal services provided were inadequate, the legal practitioner was directed to complete the matter as had been agreed, but to also waive all fees and pay compensation to the client of €2,500.

In one complaint where the LSRA determined that both the legal services provided were inadequate, and that the legal costs charged were excessive, the legal practitioner was directed to pay €500 compensation and refund €2,000 of the fee to the client.

In two complaints of legal services of an inadequate standard, the LSRA directed the legal practitioners to refund fees paid by the clients of €650 and €3,000, respectively, and to transfer the files to new solicitors.

In one complaint of legal services of an inadequate standard, the LSRA directed that the legal practitioner pay compensation to the client of €2,850 for financial or other loss, and to also transfer the file to new solicitors.

In two complaints of legal services of an inadequate standard, the LSRA directed that the legal practitioners pay compensation to the clients of €1,107 and €3,000, respectively.

In one complaint of legal services of an inadequate standard, the LSRA directed that the legal practitioner waive the right to recover fees from the client, and to transfer the file to new solicitors.

Review Committee

Twelve LSRA determinations were reviewed by the Review Committee following requests from either the legal practitioner or the complainant.

The Review Committee confirmed the LSRA’s determinations in nine of these complaints, and remitted three complaints back to the LSRA for reconsideration. 

Complaints Committee

This morning’s LSRA report says that a total of 46 complaints were closed by the Complaints Committee during the reporting period.

The committee was set up in November 2020 to hear misconduct complaints.

Of these:

  • Twelve complaints were resolved by the parties, and the Complaints Committee did not continue with its investigation,
  • 29 complaints were not upheld by the Complaints Committee,
  • One complaint was referred by the Complaints Committee to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation,
  • Three complaints were withdrawn by the complainant, and the Complaints Committee therefore did not continue with its investigation,
  • The investigation of one complaint was deferred, as court proceedings had been issued.

Possible sanctions

If the Complaints Committee considers that the complaint does not warrant referral to the LPDT, but warrants a sanction, it can direct the legal practitioner to: 

  • Complete the legal service or arrange for the service to be completed by a legal practitioner nominated by the complainant at the expense of the legal practitioner,
  • Complete a professional competence scheme,
  • Waive or refund fees,
  • Take other action in the interest of the complainant,
  • Withdraw or amend an advertisement,
  • Pay compensation not exceeding €5,000,
  • Pay costs to the LSRA,
  • With the consent of the legal practitioner (failing which the matter will proceed to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal), impose a specified restriction or condition on the practising certificate, or the practice of the legal practitioner.
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