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‘Poor communication’ behind most complaints

22 Jul 2021 / regulation Print

‘Poor communication’ behind most complaints

A breakdown of complaints made to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) about solicitors and barristers shows that 1,422 were received in total last year — 1,389 relating to solicitors and 33 to barristers.

The body began handling such complaints in October 2019, and 2020 was its first full year of operating this function.

The regulator’s annual report breaks down complaints by county, and shows that the most complaints were received in counties containing the two main population centres. Dublin topped the list with 559 complaints, followed by Cork with 149.

Donegal, however, was third on the list, with 64 complaints, followed by Galway and Mayo with 61 each. Laois and Roscommon had the lowest number of complaints, with only nine recorded.

The LSRA points out that multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.

The total figures for each county — for solicitors and barristers combined — were:

  • Carlow 13,
  • Cavan 19,
  • Clare 21,
  • Cork 149,
  • Donegal 64,
  • Dublin 559,
  • Kerry 37,
  • Kildare 53,
  • Kilkenny 11,
  • Galway 61,
  • Laois 9,
  • Leitrim 15,
  • Limerick 58,
  • Longford 18,
  • Louth 42,
  • Mayo 61,
  • Meath 27,
  • Monaghan 14,
  • Offaly 11,
  • Roscommon 9,
  • Sligo 18,
  • Tipperary 18,
  • Waterford 29,
  • Westmeath 25,
  • Wicklow 42,
  • Wexford 20.

Complaints resolved ‘informally’

Of the 365 complaints closed during the year, 184 were deemed inadmissible after a statutory assessment.

The annual report says poor communication is “very much at the heart of” most complaints.

The LSRA said last year that a significant number of complaints were being informally resolved between the parties at a very early stage in the process. It said that it was “extremely encouraging” that this trend had continued during 2020, with 104 complaints resolved informally.

In 62 cases, complaints were withdrawn after exchanges of information between complainants and legal practitioners facilitated by the LSRA. A total of 15 complaints could not proceed for a variety of reasons — including where court proceedings were in progress.

One complaint was referred to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, an independent body set up under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 to consider complaints of misconduct against solicitors and barristers referred to it from the LSRA’s Complaints Committee or the Law Society.

Cases can go to Ombudsman

Individuals who are unhappy with any LSRA decision that a complaint is inadmissible can bring a complaint to the Ombudsman. In 2020, a total of 38 such complaints were made, with 29 being closed on the basis that Ombudsman was satisfied with the LSRA’s decision.

Three complaints were under investigation by the Ombudsman, and six were pending investigation, at the end of 2020.

Almost 60% of the complaints handled by the LSRA last year related to alleged misconduct, the definition of which includes “an act or omission which involves fraud or dishonesty, or which is likely to bring the profession into disrepute”.

Of the misconduct complaints, 218 were linked to allegations of conduct likely to bring the profession into disrepute. 143 alleged a failure to communicate, while another 107 were linked to an alleged failure to hand over files or documents.

An alleged failure to account for clients’ money was involved in 71 complaints, while 57 involved alleged fraud or dishonesty.

Of the 496 complaints alleging that legal services were of an inadequate standard, 153 were linked to litigation, 112 to the administration of estates, and 112 to conveyancing.

In the ‘excessive costs’ complaints category, 38 of the 107 recorded related to litigation, with 24 linked to family law and 11 to probate.

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