Complain about a solicitor

Last updated: January 2024 | 3 min read

When your solicitor doesn't meet your expectations, it's essential to know how to respond. This guide, linking closely with related challenges like complain about a surveyor and the decisions around do I need a solicitor to remortgage, provides practical steps to assert your rights. Learn how to voice your concerns effectively, ensuring your voice is heard in the complex world of legal services.

Understanding reasons for complaining about a solicitor

What constitutes poor service from a legal service provider?

Poor service from a legal services provider often manifests in various forms. You might experience delays beyond reasonable time frames, or find the advice provided by your solicitor unclear and insufficient. In some cases, poor service includes a lack of regular updates on your case or encountering errors in legal documents.

These instances might leave you feeling underserved and frustrated. If your expectations of professionalism and efficiency aren't met, it's reasonable to consider these as grounds for a complaint.

Recognising conflicts of interest and unethical practices

When it comes to legal advisers, maintaining impartiality is fundamental. Conflicts of interest arise when your solicitor's ability to act in your best interests is compromised.

This could be due to personal connections, financial interests, or representing another client with opposing interests. Recognising these conflicts is crucial, as they can undermine the trust and efficacy of legal counsel.

Examples of conflicts of interest in legal services

An example of a conflict of interest could be a solicitor representing both parties in a property transaction. Another instance might be a legal professional providing advice on a matter where they have a financial stake.

Such scenarios can lead to biased advice and decisions not entirely in your favour. It's important to be vigilant and question any situation where your solicitor's impartiality might be in doubt.

Identifying the right authority for your complaint

Differentiating between the Legal Ombudsman and the Solicitors Regulation Authority

When you decide to complain about a solicitor, it's essential to understand which body to approach: the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The Legal Ombudsman handles complaints about poor service.

This includes issues like delays, poor communication, or overcharging. In contrast, the SRA deals with more serious concerns. These are usually about a solicitor's ethics or professional conduct. Examples include dishonesty or compromising client confidentiality.

Contacting the Legal Ombudsman: When and How

If your complaint is about service quality, contact the Legal Ombudsman. Do this if you're unhappy with the solicitor's response or if they haven't resolved your complaint within eight weeks. The Legal Ombudsman's role is to assess service fairness and, where appropriate, seek resolution.

They can advise on the process or, in some cases, offer compensation. Contacting them is straightforward. You can reach them via their website or through the contact details provided online.

Reporting to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

For concerns about a solicitor's conduct or ethical standards, report to the SRA. This body focuses on breaches of professional rules, such as conflicts of interest or confidentiality issues.

If the complaint is about professional misconduct, the SRA investigates these claims. Their focus is maintaining professional standards in the legal industry.

What issues fall under the SRA's jurisdiction?

Issues under the SRA's jurisdiction include serious ethical breaches. For example, mishandling client funds, conflicts of interest, or breaking confidentiality rules.

If your complaint involves these aspects, the SRA is the correct authority. They ensure solicitors adhere to professional standards, protecting clients' interests.

Preparing to lodge your complaint

Gathering and organising evidence to support your claim

Accurate evidence forms the backbone of your complaint against a solicitor. Start by collecting all relevant documents: emails, letters, contracts, and any other correspondence. Focus on material that directly pertains to the issues at hand.

Chronological organisation helps in painting a clear timeline of events. Remember, strong evidence is factual and specific.

Writing an effective complaint letter: Tips and examples

Key elements to include in your complaint

A well-structured complaint letter is crucial. Address it to the appropriate contact at the legal firm. Begin by clearly stating your intent to complain. Be concise yet thorough in describing the issues, referring to the gathered evidence.

Include specific dates and direct references to relevant parts of your agreement or correspondence with the solicitor. End with a clear statement of what resolution you seek, be it an apology, a refund, or another form of redress.

The complaint process: What to expect

Timeline and steps in the Legal Ombudsman's investigation process

The Legal Ombudsman's investigation process unfolds in a structured manner. Initially, upon receiving your complaint, they assess its validity. If valid, they begin a thorough investigation. This process can take up to eight weeks from the date of your complaint. The Ombudsman contacts both you and the solicitor to gather information. You'll receive updates throughout this period, ensuring you're informed at each step.

Understanding the SRA's approach to investigating complaints

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) adopts a different approach. Their focus lies on the solicitor's conduct. Upon receiving your complaint, they first determine whether it falls under their jurisdiction. If so, they initiate an investigation into potential breaches of the SRA Code of Conduct. This process varies in length, depending on the complexity of the case.

Potential outcomes of an SRA investigation

The outcomes of an SRA investigation range from no action to serious repercussions for the solicitor. In some cases, the SRA may issue warnings or require additional training for the solicitor. In more severe instances, they can impose fines or refer the solicitor to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which has the power to suspend or strike off solicitors from the register.

Responding to unsatisfactory outcomes

Options if you disagree with the Legal Ombudsman's decision

If you're unhappy with the Legal Ombudsman's decision, you have options. First, request a review of the decision within the time limits specified.

If still dissatisfied, you can escalate your complaint to an independent adjudicator. They review the case afresh, providing an additional layer of scrutiny.

Appealing decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Appealing against an SRA decision involves a formal process. You must submit an appeal within the specified time limits, clearly outlining your reasons. The appeal is usually reviewed by a higher authority or a legal tribunal, which decides whether to uphold, modify, or overturn the SRA's decision.

In engaging legal services, the onus is often on the client to ensure a smooth and effective partnership. The following sections delve into how clients can proactively minimize future issues with legal service providers, focusing on the selection of solicitors and fostering clear communication.

Choosing the right solicitor: Things to consider

When you're seeking legal assistance, choosing a solicitor tailored to your needs is paramount. Begin by identifying the nature of your legal issue. Different solicitors specialize in various areas of law. For instance, a solicitor experienced in family law may not be the best fit for a property dispute.

Next, consider the solicitor's experience and track record. It's beneficial to research their professional history. This can include looking into any notable cases they've handled or any special recognition they've received in their field.

Client testimonials and reviews can also provide insight into a solicitor's effectiveness and client service. Positive feedback from previous clients can be a strong indicator of a solicitor's capabilities.

Additionally, checking the solicitor's standing with professional bodies, like the Law Society, can provide assurance of their credibility and adherence to professional standards.

Utilising the Law Society's website for vetting solicitors

The Law Society's website serves as a valuable resource for vetting potential solicitors. It offers a comprehensive directory that includes solicitors' qualifications, areas of specialisation, and any regulatory actions taken against them.

This tool allows you to confirm that a solicitor is licensed and in good standing, ensuring they are qualified to handle your legal matters. The website also provides guidance on what to expect from solicitor services, further aiding your selection process.

Maintaining clear and effective communication with your solicitor

Once you've selected a solicitor, establishing a foundation of clear and consistent communication is crucial. It's advisable to set expectations for regular updates and agree on preferred methods of communication, whether it be via email, phone, or in-person meetings.

Clear communication also involves expressing your needs and concerns transparently. It's important to ask questions if any aspect of your case or the legal process is unclear.

Moreover, ensure that your solicitor provides updates on the progress of your case and any developments that may arise. A mutual understanding of communication frequency and format can significantly reduce misunderstandings and ensure that you're always informed about your case.

Setting expectations and understanding solicitors' duties

Understanding the duties and responsibilities of your solicitor is key. They are obligated to provide you with clear explanations of legal processes, keep you informed about the progress of your case, and discuss any changes or decisions that need to be made.

They should also be transparent about their fees and provide an estimate of the costs involved in your case. It's important to discuss and agree upon these financial aspects upfront to avoid any surprises or disagreements later on.

By setting these expectations early in your relationship with your solicitor, you can establish a cooperative and effective working partnership. Remember, a solicitor's primary duty is to act in your best interest, ensuring they conduct themselves ethically and diligently throughout your case.

Frequently asked questions

Is there a time limit to complain about a solicitor?

Yes, time limits apply when complaining about a solicitor. In most cases, you have up to six years from the date of the incident, or three years from when you realised there was a problem. For complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, you must contact them within six months of your solicitor's final response.

Can I claim compensation through the complaints process?

Compensation may be available through the complaints process. If the Legal Ombudsman upholds your complaint, they can require the solicitor to apologise, return documents, refund or reduce fees, and, in some cases, pay compensation for the inconvenience caused.

What if my solicitor fails to respond to my concerns?

If your solicitor does not address your concerns, you can escalate the matter. First, review the firm's internal complaints procedure. If unsatisfied with their response or if they fail to respond within eight weeks, contact the Legal Ombudsman to investigate your complaint.

How to switch solicitors during an ongoing legal matter?

Switching solicitors is your right, especially if dissatisfied with their service. To do so, inform your current solicitor of your decision and instruct a new one. Ensure the handover of all relevant documents. Be aware that there may be costs involved in transferring your case.

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