Many solicitors are not advising clients of complaining rights despite regulatory obligations claims the Legal Ombudsman.

Clients who are dissatisfied or unhappy with the levels of service they receive from their solicitors are not being told of their right to complain about poor service, despite the regulatory obligation to ‘signpost’ the ombudsman scheme.  That’s the conclusion reached by the Legal Ombudsman from its latest satisfaction survey. However, solicitors have questioned the findings, saying that the latest figure is hard to square with last year’s findings which concluded that 70 per cent of lawyers were in fact signposting in the required manner.

The ombudsman resolved 6,500 complaints last year. Residential conveyancing was the most complained about area of law, accounting for 22 per cent of complaints resolved. Family law (14 per cent), personal injury (12 per cent), and wills and probate (13 per cent) were the other main areas of complaint.

So what did the latest survey find, and on what basis was the survey conducted? Well, by far and away the most headline-grabbing figure is that only roughly twenty per cent of clients claim to recall hearing anything about the signposting scheme from their lawyer. What’s more, the survey also found that 72 per cent of the people complaining said their solicitor provided no signposting information; or if they did, the information provided was incorrect.

Naturally solicitors have questioned the accuracy and veracity of the survey’s findings; pointing out that basing conclusions on a very limited sample of just 100 people is hardly ‘representative. What’s more, they also pointed out that the conclusions are likely to be skewed because they are based solely on the opinions of a group of clients who were already, by definition, unhappy with their solicitor.

Why did the Legal Ombudsman’s office release such data when it has never previously done so? Well, it justified releasing the data because ‘a lack of signposting has contributed to a general reduction in awareness of the ombudsman scheme, meaning consumers might not know where to go for help when things go wrong’.

Kathryn Stone, chief ombudsman, said:

‘Many people could be losing their chance to put things right after receiving poor service, simply because they don’t know where to go.’

‘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 the LeO if they’re dissatisfied with their lawyer’s handling of a complaint,’ she added.

Responding to the LeO’s research, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said:

‘We expect all solicitors to comply with their obligation to inform their clients of the existence and role of the ombudsman.’

‘We have not seen the research concerned and so cannot comment on its detail or what, if anything, its findings suggest about solicitors. We will, however, be following up with the Legal Ombudsman to understand the research.’

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