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Lawyers must make clients aware of ability to complain to LeO

24th Aug 2016

Law firms should do more to make clients aware of their right to complain about poor service by lawyers, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has declared.

Following a survey of 3,680 consumers, just one in five had heard about the watchdog’s complaints scheme from their legal service provider.

In a separate review of 100 cases, 72% of firms had provided no signposting information or provided incorrect information.

Kathryn Stone OBE, the chief ombudsman, said that “Many people could be losing their chance to put things right after receiving poor service, simply because they don’t know where to go.”

She continued to note that “Legal regulations are quite clear that lawyers should be telling clients about how to complain if they are unhappy, and that they can bring a complaint to LeO if they’re dissatisfied with their lawyer’s handling of a complaint.”

Consumers’ lack of LeO awareness may be a factor in the 10% fall in complaints the watchdog received over the last three years – from 20,000 in 2012/13 to just over 18,000 in 2014/15.

As a result, the ombudsman has published a free signposting pack to help lawyers.

A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said that “Solicitors have a responsibility, as set out in our code of conduct, to inform clients of their right to complain and the process involved from the outset.”

“We are part funding, with the other legal regulators, joint research into client care letters, so that we better understand how firms are providing that information,” the spokesperson continued. “Firms also have a duty to record the number and nature of complaints they receive. Collecting this information helps them to identify areas for improvement.”

The latest finding comes a week after the SRA was criticised for failing to inform claimants of their right to recover losses from the Solicitors Compensation Fund (SCF).

The regulator said it was working with the LeO and Citizens Advice to ensure ‘clarity around the process’ for making a claim to the SCF.