More complaints about poor service
Of the complaints it received during the period, 576 related to solicitors and 19 to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.
The LSRA points out that multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.
A total of 374 complaints (63%) alleged misconduct, with 195 complaints (33%) linked to legal services of an inadequate standard. A further 26 (4%) were related to alleged over-charging.
The authority says that the percentage of complaints about poor service has been increasing in recent reporting periods.
In the latest period, conveyancing and litigation each accounted for around one-quarter of the complaints about inadequate legal services.
Referrals to LPDT
Of the complaints that were closed, 163 were closed before a decision on whether or not they were admissible needed to be made, while just under half (291) were found to be inadmissible.
The LSRA either resolved or determined almost 40% of closed complaints (226), while the remainder were withdrawn or deferred.
The Complaints Committee, which examines complaints of alleged misconduct, referred 13 such complaints to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation. The LPDT is a separate body to the LSRA.
The committee also upheld six complaints about misconduct, directing practitioners to pay a total of €7,500 in compensation and €1,500 in costs to the LSRA.
The LSRA closed 35 complaints as a result of its determinations. This figure includes some determinations made during the previous six-month period.
During the current reporting period, the LSRA made 59 determinations, upholding 36 complaints. In 21 cases, the practitioner was told to pay compensation of up to €3,000 to the complainant.
Mediators step in
The authority helped to resolve 83 complaints before a decision was made about whether the complaint was admissible.
The LSRA’s mediators helped to resolve 13 complaints about services and costs after they had been made admissible.
Overall, legal practitioners were directed to pay a total of €43,700 in compensation to complainants.
LSRA Chief Executive Dr Brian Doherty (pictured) said that it was “encouraging” to see complainants and legal practitioners making efforts to resolve issues early on in the complaints process, adding that this avoided protracted and costly investigations.
“It makes sense that complaints about consumer matters such as service delays, poor communications, or overcharging are addressed quickly and informally where possible,” Dr Doherty stated.
“This can lead to practical common-sense outcomes for both parties, who can then move on with their affairs,” he added.
Warning on powers
Dr Doherty warned, however, about a “small but growing” number of instances where practitioners had chosen not to comply with statutory directions from the LSRA after its determinations.
“Legal practitioners should be aware that the LSRA will use its statutory powers and apply to the High Court for an order to enforce directions made against legal practitioners,” he said, adding that the authority would also apply for an order covering any costs it had incurred in taking court actions.
He pointed out that, otherwise, these costs would be included in the annual levy on the legal profession through which the LSRA is funded.
The LSRA chief executive also said that it had recently asked for permission to further increase staff numbers, having submitted a review of its resources to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.