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LSRA complaints on misconduct, costs, ads, are up 33%
LSRA chief executive Brian Doherty

07 Apr 2021 / regulation Print

Complaints on misconduct, costs, ads, are up 33%

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has published its first complaints report for 2021, which shows it received 805 complaints in a six-month period – a 33% increase on the previous reporting period, when complaints totalled 605.

The report, Independent Complaints Handling, covers the six-month period from 7 September 2020 to 26 March 2021.

The report also covers the LSRA’s handling of 44 complaints and concerns about online advertising by solicitors, received since December 2020.

In the report, the LSRA says that complaints relating to probate and wills could be avoided in most cases by clear communication with all parties, in relation to roles and responsibilities, as well as timeframes.

Clarity required

The LSRA has also urged members of the public to be clear about what they wish to achieve in making complaints.

Complainants are asked to outline what they would consider to be a satisfactory outcome, in their initial submission. This information is then conveyed to the practitioner, so they can be told clearly how to fix any problems their actions may have caused.

Multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.

A total of 783 complaints related to solicitors, and 22 related to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.

  • A total of 462 complaints (57%) alleged misconduct, while 291 complaints (36%) concerned inadequate legal services, and a further 52 (7%) related to alleged excessive costs (overcharging),
  • There were 2,352 public contacts – a 46% increase on the previous reporting period of 7 March to 6 September, 2020,
  • Wills and probate, litigation, family law and conveyancing were the main areas of contention.

Complaints about services and costs

  • 294 complaints were closed during the reporting period, with 104 determined as inadmissible,
  • A total of 91 complaints were resolved with the assistance of the LSRA,
  • The LSRA made determinations and upheld six complaints – five concerned inadequate legal services by solicitors, and one related to excessive costs,
  • Directions were issued by the LSRA to the legal practitioners in five of these six cases. In one case of inadequate service, it ordered that compensation of almost €1,000 be awarded to the complainant. Both the complainant and the legal practitioner accepted this direction,
  • In two cases, a review has been requested by one of the parties.

Complaints committee

This is the first LSRA complaints report to include details of determinations of the Complaints Committee, which is independent of the LSRA in its decision-making, and was set up in November 2020.

A total of 31 misconduct complaints about solicitors were investigated by the independent Complaints Committee.

Of these, two were upheld, five were not upheld, and one was withdrawn.

Of the two misconduct complaints upheld, one related to communications with the complainant, who was the joint owner of a property that had been sold. While the complaint was upheld, no directions or measures were imposed.

The second case related to an allegation that a legal practitioner had misled his client as to the work undertaken. The solicitor was directed to make a payment to the complainant of €500 as compensation.

A total of six cases were referred by the Complaints Committee to the independent Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation.

A total of 16 cases currently remain under investigation by the Complaints Committee.

Complaints about advertising

Under the Advertising Regulations 2020, the LSRA received 44 complaints and notifications of concerns. The regulations apply to print, audio and visual advertisements, including online advertising.

While legal practitioners are allowed to advertise their legal services, some prohibitions on the content and form of advertisements exist.

Prohibitions include the use of the phrases “no win no fee”, “no foal no fee”, and “free first consultation”, or similar.

Amounts of possible damages for personal-injury claims are also not allowed.

Ads in inappropriate locations, such as hospitals, clinics, doctors’ surgeries, funeral homes, cemeteries or crematoria, are forbidden.

The LSRA wrote to three legal practitioners informing them of possible breaches. In all three instances, the legal practitioners resolved the issue by withdrawing or amending the advertisements.

Advertising regulations warning

LSRA chief executive Dr Brian Doherty said this morning (7 April): “The LSRA’s complaints and resolutions’ staff managed a significantly higher volume of both inquiries and complaints, with a third more complaints in comparison to the previous reporting period.

“I strongly encourage all legal practitioners to review their online and other advertising to ensure that these are in line with the new Advertising Regulations 2020.”

Dr Doherty added that he was heartened by the engagement of both legal practitioners and complainants in efforts to resolve complaints at an early stage.

“I am concerned, however, by the reluctance of some legal practitioners to address concerns and complaints that are raised with them in a productive and proactive manner.

“In our experience to date, early and open engagement with the complaints process will always lead to a quicker and more effective resolution of the matter at hand,” he said.

The report urges solicitors to be clear with clients about fees, and to update clients about changes.

Even simple estate administration can become complicated very quickly, the LSRA notes.

Clarifications regarding costs

A subsequent instruction to undertake work that is outside the original fee quote should be clarified as regards to costs

Probate practitioners in particular should bear this in mind, the LSRA says in its report, particularly at the point where the grant of probate is applied for, since, at that point, the size of the estate will be more obvious, as well as visibility on remaining work.

It also stresses the need for clear communications when dealing with clients making wills.

It is often sensible to have at least one executor who is a beneficiary of a will, the LSRA says.

And queries about progress should often be directed to the executor, rather than a solicitor, the LSRA notes, even though relations may sometimes be strained between executor and beneficiary.

The LSRA points out that seeking regular updates from a solicitor will add to delays and increase costs.

Practitioners may find themselves in the middle of family disputes, but should always proceed in accordance with the law, the LSRA warns, and only act on instruction from clients, that is, the executor.

Routinely addressing correspondence with beneficiaries will only add to administrative costs, the LSRA points out.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland