The number of complaints made about solicitors and barristers increased by 12% last year compared with 2020, according to the annual report of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).
The LSRA is an independent statutory body that is responsible for the regulation of legal services.
It began receiving and investigating complaints about legal practitioners in October 2019, and last year was the second full year in which it operated as the independent complaints-handling body.
The annual report shows that, of the 1,599 complaints received during the year, 1,560 related to solicitors, while 39 were about barristers.
The authority points out that multiple complaints may be made about an individual legal practitioner.
Half of complaints deemed inadmissible
The LRSA says that 1,343 complaints were closed during 2021. Of these, 398 were resolved and 172 were withdrawn. Just under half were closed as they were deemed as inadmissible after a statutory assessment.
Just over 1,000 of the complaints – almost 70% – were linked to alleged misconduct. This represents a jump of more than 30% compared with 2020.
Just over a quarter of complaints were related to alleged inadequate standards of legal services, and 5% were from clients who alleged that they had been charged excessive costs. The numbers of complaints received in these categories were down by 13% and 27%, respectively.
A breakdown of complaints received shows that 592 were made against legal practitioners based in Dublin city and county, 205 were in Cork city and county, 83 were in Kildare, and 82 were in Limerick.
The total figures for each county — for solicitors and barristers combined — were:
- Carlow 10,
- Cavan 24,
- Clare 21,
- Cork 205,
- Donegal 49,
- Dublin 592,
- Kerry 49,
- Kildare 83,
- Kilkenny 20,
- Galway 60,
- Laois 14,
- Leitrim 31,
- Limerick 82,
- Longford 18,
- Louth 44,
- Mayo 51,
- Meath 31,
- Monaghan 19,
- Offaly 3,
- Roscommon 9,
- Sligo 16,
- Tipperary 38,
- Waterford 20,
- Westmeath 39,
- Wexford 25,
- Wicklow 36.
The watchdog’s chief executive Dr Brian Doherty (pictured) pointed out that complaints could be closed for several reasons:
- When they have been successfully resolved between the parties with the assistance of the LSRA,
- When they have been determined by the LSRA, or by either of the two committees established under legislation,
- Complaints are also closed early in the complaints-handling process if they are found to be inadmissible.
The Complaints Committee, which investigates complaints of alleged misconduct, dealt with 75 complaints last year. The Review Committee, which looks at determinations made by the LSRA on complaints linked to inadequate legal services or excessive costs, reviewed nine LSRA rulings.
The LSRA said that the most noticeable trend in misconduct complaints during the year was the sharp increase in the number of complaints linked to a failure to comply with an undertaking given to a colleague or financial institution.
These types of complaint accounted for almost one-third of misconduct complaints in 2021, compared with 10% in 2020.
“As in previous years, failures to reply to correspondence and poor communication remained very much at the heart of the majority of the complaints that were received in all categories,” the report says.
LLPs continue to grow
The LRSA also reports that the number of partnerships of solicitors seeking authorisation from the watchdog to operate as Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) grew at a steady pace in 2021, with 106 LLPs authorised during the year.
The majority of partnerships authorised as LLPs last year had between two and five partners, but five had more than 20 partners.
“We are pleased to see continued interest among solicitor partnerships in applying for authorisation to operate as LLPs, and look forward to the introduction of legal partnerships in 2022 as a new business-practice model for solicitors and barristers,” said Dr Doherty.
The LRSA report also shows that there were 2,933 barristers on the Roll of Practising Barristers at the end of 2021 – up 110 compared with a year earlier. The authority maintains the register.
At the end of 2021, the authority employed 46 staff – an increase of 13 on 2020.