“In the rare cases where this occurs, the LSRA will use its statutory powers and apply to the High Court for an order for compliance. The LSRA will also apply for an order covering any costs it has incurred,” he said.
The LSRA may direct the refunding or waiving of fees, or the transfer of files. It can also can direct a legal practitioner to pay up to €5,000 towards the costs incurred.
Dr Doherty continued: “For the first time, we are today reporting on successful High Court enforcement proceedings taken against solicitors by the LSRA. The High Court has made orders in two LSRA applications, and there are more such proceedings under consideration.
“Where the LSRA makes a determination in a complaint, and issues a statutory direction, I strongly advise legal practitioners to take action before we take them to court.”
One High Court case concerned a solicitor acting in family-law proceedings over several years, with a long period without any communication between the parties, and a failure to return phone calls or reply to emails.
The solicitor eventually agreed to assign a new member of staff to handle matters. There was some activity, but the new solicitor then left the firm and communication broke down again.
The LSRA found that the legal services provided by the solicitor were of an inadequate standard, and directed a transfer of all documents within 30 days.
The solicitor continued to be unresponsive, and the LSRA then applied to the High Court for an order directing the solicitor to comply with its direction.
The High Court made this order, and also ordered the solicitor to pay the LSRA’s costs for having to take the High Court action.
The report details the number and nature of complaints about solicitors and barristers during the reporting period of 5 March to 2 September.
This includes 70 complaints that were closed by the Complaints Committee set up in 2020 to investigate alleged misconduct.
Of the 778 complaints, a full 759 related to solicitors and 19 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.
The report points out: “Your clients need to be kept updated, even if this means explaining any reasons for delays in carrying out their instructions.”
In one complaint, the LSRA determined that legal costs were excessive, and the practitioner was directed to waive the remainder of outstanding costs.
In another, the LSRA determined that services provided were inadequate, and the legal practitioner was directed to reconstitute the title deeds and transfer the property at his/her own expense.
In another case, services provided were deemed inadequate, and the legal practitioner was directed to transfer the file and waive all costs.
In relation to a complaint where the LSRA determined that the services provided were inadequate, the legal practitioner was directed to rectify various issues at his/her own expense, and pay the client compensation of €3,000.
Sharp warning about lost wills
The LSRA has also issued a sharp warning to solicitors over lost title deeds and wills, which are of considerable importance to clients.
The regulator has said that it is surprised at the frequency of document loss and that, in a well-managed solicitor’s practice, this simply should not happen.
“Solicitors are aware of the costs involved in trying to reconstitute title deeds, and the huge difficulties faced by executors where the original will is missing,” the report points out.
The problem often occurs as a result of a solicitor changing firms and moving files and deeds, which should only happen with the agreement of the firm and written client consent.
Files with outstanding undertakings should either not be transferred at all, or not without the written agreement of the mortgage lender.
Allegations of misconduct
A total of 521 complaints (67%) to the LSRA alleged misconduct, with 228 complaints (29%) about alleged inadequate legal-services standards.
A further 29 (4%) came under the category of alleged excessive costs (overcharging).
The main areas that attracted complaints were litigation, family law, probate, and conveyancing.
The pattern is consistent with the LSRA’s five previous complaints reports since October 2019.
Complaints and resolutions staff received a total of 1,350 phone calls and emails requesting information and/or complaints forms, with 994 files opened as queries.
Of the 754 complaints closed, 294 (39%) were shut off pre-admissibility – that is, before a decision was made as to whether the complaint was admissible.
Of these, 134 were resolved with the assistance of the LSRA, with 139 withdrawn and two deferred. A further 19 complaints could not proceed to admissibility for a variety of other reasons.
A total of 460 complaints (61%) were closed either at the admissibility decision stage or post-admissibility. Of these, 340 complaints were deemed inadmissible by the LSRA.
A further nine complaints were resolved in the informal resolution process with the help of the LSRA’s trained mediators. Another 41 were determined by the LSRA, while 70 were closed by the Complaints Committee.
The LSRA’s complaints staff made determinations in 46 complaints of inadequate standard of legal services and excessive costs (overcharging). Of these, 27 were upheld and 19 were not upheld.
In those that were upheld, the LSRA directed compensation payments of between €615 and €3,000.
The total amount of compensation was €22,865.
Ten LSRA determinations were seen by the Review Committee, and six were confirmed, while four were sent back to the LSRA for reconsideration.
A total of 70 complaints were closed in the period. Of these:
- 20 complaints were resolved by parties, and the Complaints Committee stood down,
- 24 complaints were not upheld by the Complaints Committee,
- 11 complaints were upheld and directions issued to include the payment of compensation,
- Six complaints were referred by the Complaints Committee to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation,
- Seven complaints were withdrawn by the complainant, and
- The investigation of two complaints was discontinued.