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Complaints

Your Solicitor's Role

A solicitor's main role is to help you, the client, deal with disputes and agreements. A solicitor and client need to work closely together in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Your solicitor however cannot guarantee a result in your favour, and an unfavourable outcome, whilst disappointing, does not necessarily mean that your solicitor has been at fault or negligent in handling your case for you.

What it costs

Costs will vary according to the nature and complexity of the work involved. In some cases you may be eligible for Legal Aid, although in certain civil cases this may take the form of a loan (a 'Statutary Charge') and you may have to pay some or all of the money back when your financial circumstances allow. Another way of paying costs involves a conditional fee agreement ("No win, no fee"). This means that if you lose your case you only have to pay third-party expenses and not your solicitor's costs. If you win, the other side will usually be ordered to pay your costs. You will pay your solicitor a success fee (a percentage of the money that you win). You must however discuss the details of such arrangements with your solicitor to ensure that you fully understand the implications.

A contract with your solicitor

Once your solicitor has agreed to act for you, he or she must send you a Client Care Letter to, amongst other things:

 

- Confirm the terms of your instructions, to avoid any misunderstanding

 

- Set out which member(s) of the firm will be handling your file

 

- Like all providers of services to the public, solicitors are extremely conscious of the need to provide consistently high service levels to clients.


For this reason they take complaint handling very seriously. Since September 1999 it has been a requirement of the Solicitors Practice Rules (Rule 15) for every firm of solicitors to have and to follow a documented procedure for handling client complaints. The following is an outline of a typical complaints handling procedure:

Poor client service - what to do

If you feel that you have received/are receiving poor service from your solicitor (lack of regular updates on progress and/or costs, late/no replies to letters or telephone calls, etc), you should initially attempt to resolve your concerns informally, by talking to your solicitor about them. If this fails to achieve the hoped-for improvement, then you may wish to consider making a more formal complaint in writing:


1.Write to the solicitor acting for you by name, giving full details of whatever is giving you cause for concern. Give your solicitor two weeks from receipt of your letter in which to reply in writing, giving his or her response to your points.

 

2. When you have received this response you should consider whether it adequately deals with your concern, and whether you are satisfied that the matter has been dealt with - if so, the matter is closed.

3. If you do not receive a reply within the stated time, or if the reply which you do receive is unacceptable to you then you should send a copy of your original letter, plus the reply if received, to the firm's Client Care or Complaints Partner, again requesting a reply in writing within 2 weeks.

 

4. When you receive the reply from the Client Care Partner you should carefully read its contents. Remember that the person who writes to you will be concerned with the fact that the firm has a dissatisfied client. If the Client Care Partner's reply deals with your concerns to your satisfaction, the matter has been resolved. However, if a firm takes more than eight weeks to resolve a complaint, than a complainant may refer it to the Legal Ombudsman without waiting for the firm's final response.

 

5.1 However if you are still dissatisfied, then your remedy is the same as any other purchaser of goods and services - you may take your business elsewhere. Provided that you have paid your fees up to date, or if you are legally aided, then your solicitor must release your files to your new solicitor. Your old solicitor will, however, require a letter from you confirming your wish to transfer your instructions elsewhere, giving the name of both your new solicitor and his/her firm, plus your written authority to transfer your file.

5.2  If you feel that your complaint has still not been dealt with properly and wish to take the matter further, you will need to contact the Legal Ombudsman [LeO]). 

 

Ordinarily a complainant must refer the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within six months from them receiving a written response to the complaint from the firm as long as the response includes, prominently, the following details:

  • that they may go to the Legal Ombudsman if they are dissatisfied with the response
  • the contact details of the Legal Ombudsman and a warning that they must refer the complaint within six months.

Normally complainants must refer a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman within a year from the act/omission occurring or from when they should have reasonably known it had occurred.

 

Please note that the LeO is only concerned with complaints made by clients about their own solicitor. If you wish to complain about your opponent's solicitor you will need to take the advice of and receive the support of your own solicitor before doing so. However before complaining to the LeO about your own solicitor you will be expected to have followed the steps outlined above.

 

For more information on the Legal Ombudsman's role in handling complaints go to www.legalombudsman.org.uk/ and click on 'information for consumers'. Alternatively you may consult the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA) website at www.sra.ork.uk/consumers/consumers.page

Professional Negligence

If your solicitor has been negligent in law, ie has given you incorrect or inappropriate legal advice (as opposed to poor client service) or has for instance failed to meet Court-imposed timescales to your detriment then you may have a civil claim, in which case you must consult another solicitor to obtain a second opinion on whether negligence may have occurred, and to formulate and conduct a claim on your behalf. A negligence claim is usually dealt with by the allegedly negligent solicitor's Professional Indemnity Insurer and, as with all insurance claims, must be for a specified amount by way of compensation and/or damages. However the Legal Ombudsman may still be able to intervene and/or provide advice on whether your complaint constitutes professional negligence.

Further information

 

The Legal Ombudsman can be contacted on 0300 555 0333 - all calls are recorded - or at http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk

The Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA) can be contacted at http://www.sra.org.uk  or by telephone on  0870 606 555  between 08.00 to 18.00, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and  09.30 to 18.00, Tuesday


The Derby and District Law Society trust that you will have found this information useful.