A total of 17 complaints in 2022 were referred on to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) Complaints Committee, which investigates misconduct complaints.
The LSRA annual report shows that it received a total of 1,352 complaints and closed a total of 1,483 in 2022, the third full year that it has operated as the independent complaints handling body for complaints about solicitors and barristers.
The LSRA began receiving and investigating complaints on 7 October 2019.
Further work continued on the establishment of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) during 2022.
The LPDT is an independent statutory body under the act. Its role is to consider complaints of misconduct against solicitors and barristers referred to it from the LSRA’s Complaints Committee or the Law Society.
The LPDT began receiving applications from both the Law Society and the LSRA towards the end of 2022. It is expected that it will start hearings in mid-2023.
High Court risk
Legal practitioners must comply with directions of the LSRA on foot of consumer complaints, otherwise they risk being brought to the High Court, the complaints body has warned in its report.
The report provides a county-by-county breakdown of complaints received during the year, based on the business locations of the legal practitioners against whom complaints were brought.
It notes a consistent trend in complaints, with misconduct accounting for two-thirds. Misconduct is defined under the LSRA act as an act or omission that involves fraud or dishonesty, or which is likely to bring the profession into disrepute.
Those relating to excessive costs continue to fall, to 4% of the total – down from 5% in 2021.
Inadequate legal services
Complaints about inadequate legal services went up slightly, from 27% of the total in 2021 to 32% in 2022.
A total of 433 complaints received were about the provision of legal services of an inadequate standard.
- 130 complaints (30%) related to litigation,
- 109 (25%) related to conveyancing,
- 74 (17%) related to probate and the administration of estates, and
- 64 (15%) related to family law.
More complaints closed
The LSRA’s complaints, resolutions and investigations unit received a total of 1,352 complaints during the year, down 15% from 1,599 in 2021.
The largest category of complaints received, at 861 (64%), related to alleged misconduct. A total of 433 (32%) were about inadequate standards of legal services, and a further 58 (4%) were about excessive costs.
A total of 1,310 complaints were made against solicitors, while 42 related to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.
Out of the total of 1,352 complaints, 504 (37%) were made against legal practitioners based in Dublin city and county, while 151 (11%) were brought against legal practitioners based in Cork, 67 (5%) were in Limerick, and 60 (4%) were in Galway. Multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.
A total of 1,483 complaints were closed during 2022. Of these, 677 (46%) were found to be inadmissible following a statutory assessment. A further 348 complaints were resolved with the assistance of the LSRA, while 212 were withdrawn or could not proceed.
The LSRA issued seven applications to the High Court for orders to enforce its directions against legal practitioners.
The authority received a total of 2,925 phone calls and emails during the year, requesting information and/or complaint forms.
There has been a steady increase in limited liability partnerships in 2022, with a total of 82 LLPs authorised during the year.
This brings the total number of LLPs authorised since November 2019 to 424 at the end of 2022 – up from 364 at the end of 2021.
A total of 40 LLPs were authorised in County Dublin, with nine in Cork, seven in Galway and four in Tipperary.
The vast majority of partnerships of solicitors (73) authorised as LLPs had between two and five partners. A total of four solicitors’ partnerships authorised as LLPs had more than 25 partners.
Authorisation to operate with limited liability allows existing partnerships of solicitors to limit their personal liability. This means that their personal assets are protected from the negligence of other partners in the LLP.
Increase in numbers on barrister roll
The LSRA maintains the Roll of Practising Barristers, a searchable online register of all barristers entitled to provide legal services in the State, which was established on 28 December 2018.
A total of 2,957 barristers were on the Roll of Practising Barristers on 31 December 2022. This is an increase of 24 on the previous year.
Of these, 2,173 were members of the Law Library and 784 were practising outside of the Law Library.
LSRA Chief Executive Dr Brian Doherty said he was pleased that, for the first year since the LSRA began receiving and investigating complaints against legal practitioners, more complaints were closed than were received in 2022.
LSRA analysis attributes this to a 2021 spike of complaints received from financial institutions preparing to leave the Irish marketplace. The regulator believes that complaint levels will now begin to stabilise.
Dr Doherty said: “In 2022, due to the failure of a small number of legal practitioners to comply with directions made following the investigation of a complaint, the LSRA began applying to the High Court for enforcement orders.
“Where a direction has been made by the LSRA or one of its committees, and the legal practitioner fails to comply within the required timeline, the LSRA will apply to the High Court for enforcement, and will also seek an order for costs.
“Such action should not be necessary, as every legal practitioner should comply with the directions of the regulator. Failure to do so creates unnecessary work, which slows down the system, and also creates additional costs which are passed on to all legal practitioners through the annual levy collected by the LSRA to fund its operations.”
The LSRA undertook significant workforce planning in 2022, which recognised the need for more resources to deliver statutory objectives, Dr Doherty said.