The second complaints report for 2023, published today, shows the LSRA received 655 complaints about legal practitioners (solicitors and barristers) in a six-month period, with 671 complaints closed (27 September).
More legal practitioners and complainants are engaging with the LSRA’s trained mediators and attempting to resolve complaints informally, which can avoid protracted and costly investigations, paid for through the annual levy chief executive Dr Brian Doherty said.
In the report, he stressed the importance of transparency and clear communication on the cost of legal services, which should be set out in understandable plain English.
Overall, legal practitioners were directed to pay a total of €31,862 in compensation to complainants in the reporting period.
The main areas of legal services that attracted complaints in the reporting period of 4 March to 1 September were:
- Family law, and
- Wills and probate.
Total complaints received
Of a total of 655 complaints, 624 related to solicitors and 31 to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of direct contact with consumers.
Multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.
- 427 complaints (65%) alleged misconduct,]
- 203 complaints (31%) related to legal services of an inadequate standard,
- 25 (4%) came under the category of excessive costs (overcharging).
Complaints relating to alleged misconduct continue to be the highest proportion of the total (65% compared with 63% the previous reporting period).
Complaints of inadequate legal services have remained fairly static (31% as against 29% in the last reporting period).
Complaints relating to excessive costs have decreased slightly (4% now, and 6% in the previous reporting period).
Waive client fees
In one, the legal practitioner was directed to waive client fees of €1,500 plus VAT.
In another, the practitioner was directed to reduce their fees from €16,500 plus VAT to €12,000 plus VAT.
In a complaint where the LSRA determined the legal services provided were inadequate, the practitioner was directed to waive their costs, transfer the client’s file to another legal practitioner and pay €3,000 in compensation to the client.
LSRA complaints and resolutions staff received a total of 1,602 phone calls and e-mails requesting information and/or complaints forms. A total of 867 files were opened initially as queries.
671 complaints were closed during the reporting period and, of these,
- 299 (44%) were found to be inadmissible,
- 133 (20%) were resolved with LSRA help,
- 114 were determined by the LSRA, and
- 60 (9%) were withdrawn or could not proceed.
A further 21 complaints were referred to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation.
The LPDT is a separate body to the LSRA, which hears complaints of alleged misconduct.
The 133 complaints resolved with the assistance of the LSRA included 19 complaints resolved between the parties in the LSRA’s informal resolution process with the help of trained mediators.
64 upheld complaints
The 114 determined complaints comprised 64 upheld complaints and 50 complaints that were not upheld.
The LSRA’s Complaints Committee investigates misconduct complaints and can sanction legal practitioners, but does not itself make findings of misconduct.
Instead, it refers more serious matters to the LPDT.
Dr Brian Doherty said: “I very much welcome the fact that the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal recently started holding public inquiries into complaints brought to it by both the LSRA and the Law Society.”
The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) is an independent statutory tribunal established under section 74 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.
It considers complaints of alleged misconduct referred to it by the LSRA or the Law Society, and does not accept direct applications from complainants or from other parties.
The LPDT has 33 members appointed by the President of the High Court in November 2020 and consists of 21 lay members, six solicitors and six barristers.
It sits in divisions of a minimum of three members, with a lay majority, including a lay chair.
Where an application is made to the LPDT, there will be an inquiry, generally with oral evidence, and it is held in public.
The LPDT has the same rights and powers as the High Court regarding the enforcement of the attendance of witnesses, as well as the production and the discovery of documents.
It can subpoena witnesses to attend and give evidence, including under cross-examination.
The LPDT is the successor body to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal.
LPDT misconduct sanctions include:
- Imposing an advice, admonishment or censure of the legal practitioner,
- Directing the legal practitioner to participate in one or more professional competence schemes,
- Directing the legal practitioner to waive or refund costs,
- Directing the legal practitioner to complete certain legal services,
- Imposing conditions on the legal practitioner’s practising certificate,
- Imposing a range of monetary sanctions, the total amount of which cannot exceed €15,000,
- Making a recommendation to the High Court that the legal practitioner be restricted in the type of work they can do,
- Making a recommendation to the High Court that the legal practitioner be prohibited from practising without supervision,
- Making a recommendation to the High Court that the practitioner be suspended from practice or struck off permanently from the Roll of Solicitors.
The LPDT started holding inquiries in July 2023.
Following a recommendation of the LPDT, the High Court makes an order striking the name of a solicitor off the Roll of Solicitors, or suspending the solicitor from practice. The LSRA is required to publish a notice in Iris Oifigiúil.
It also publishes the details on the LSRA website.