Describe both the training of solicitors and how complaints about solicitors are made and dealt with.

There are three stages to the training of solicitors – academic, vocational and practical. There are a number of ways in which a client can make a complaint against their solicitor.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.

 

There are three stages to the training of solicitors – academic, vocational and practical. They occur in that order. I will describe each in turn in detail.

 

The academic stage will consist of a qualifying law degree or non-law degree with a Post Graduate Diploma in Law or a Common Professional Examination (7 core subjects are needed – which are EU law, constitutional and administrative law, criminal law, contract law, tort law, land law, and equity and trusts). The core subjects are selected on the basis of what the legal profession consider to be essential for a career in the law.

 

This is seen as the traditional route for most who wish to enter the profession. The profession does have room for non graduates and this is catered for by accepting persons who are qualified by virtue of being a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives as entrants.

 

The vocational stage of the training consists of a Legal Practice Course. Such courses are offered around the country and competition to obtain a place on the course can be competitive. The course concentrates on practical aspects of the work of a solicitor including legal drafting, taking instructions from clients, interviewing, advocacy, conveyancing etc. The course is seen as demanding by virtue of its heavy workload.

 

The final stage consists of a Training Contract which will comprise of supervised work and shadowing of qualified solicitors in the workplace. The Contract lasts for 2 years. Such training opportunities are limited and many hopeful candidates will be disappointed. Some places are likely to be found with larger firms who may be better placed than smaller firms to fund a training budget.

 

The Law society does not undertake a direct role in the training of solicitors but it does have some responsibility as the body representing solicitors in England and Wales. It has the overall aim of 'help, protect and promote solicitors across England and Wales'. As part of this function the Law Society will lobby and negotiate with regulators and offer training and advice from time to time.

 

After completing a Professional Skills Course the individual will be admitted to the Roll of solicitors. Like other professions, The Law Society recognises that there is a need to keep up to date with the law and good practice and as a result solicitors are required to undergo continuing professional development. Under such schemes, courses will be offered from time to time and solicitors will be expected to attend and acquire points during the year. These points will count towards a set amount of professional development to be completed and recorded in a given period.

 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority indirectly has an effect on the training of solicitors in that it is responsible for setting standards and for monitoring them as well as disciplinary matters. It acts in the public interest.

 

There are a number of ways in which a client can make a complaint against their solicitor. Each method of complaint operates at a certain level and may be dealt with differently from other forms of complaint. The nature of these complaints and how they are dealt with needs to be looked at in more detail.

 

In the first instance, the client can always complain directly to the solicitor's office. How else will the individual solicitor and his or her colleagues know about the problem unless there is a complaint and the solicitor is given an opportunity to respond?

 

The client will need to know who has responsibility and care of their matter, who to complain to and how to contact someone if they wish to speak to somebody at the firm. They should be advised of the amount of any legal charges and out of pocket expenses etc. Nowadays it is a matter of good practice for this kind of information to be included in a 'client care' letter which is sent to the client as soon as possible after the client's instructions are accepted. Ideally, within the practice, there should be a set procedure for dealing with complaints and these procedures, including time limits, should be adhered to in order to demonstrate that the complaint is being taken seriously.

 

In reality of course, not all complaints to solicitors produce an acceptable response, and some clients may wish to take their complaint further. Until recently this would have included complaining to the Legal Complaints Service, but this service has been replaced by the Legal Ombudsman.

 

The Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales commenced in 2010 and was set up by the Office for Legal Complaints under the Legal Services Act 2007. They are seen as independent and deal with a wide range of complaints about legal services including buying and selling a property, wills, family matters and personal injury claims. Complaints are investigated and if appropriate the Ombudsman can require the lawyer to do what is necessary to put a matter right. The scheme is about resolving complaints about lawyers and the service provided is free. Their advice is to complain to your solicitor first and give them the chance to deal with the matter before going to the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman has replaced the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner.

 

In the event that a client's complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, the client can sue in the civil courts (County Court or High Court depending upon the value of the claim) for breach of contract. This is because a solicitor deals directly with clients and a contract is entered into. This may also mean that if the client does not pay their bill for legal services the solicitor can sue the client. In this scenario the individual will need to be clear about their loss and the remedy that they are seeking in the courts e.g. damages or specific performance.

 

Alternatively the client or solicitor may prefer to have the dispute resolved outside of the courts using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and such methods might involve negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration. There are a number of organisations which now offer a range of ADR services including some law firms themselves. Such attempts to resolve the dispute through these means could be made as an alternative to court proceedings or after proceedings have been commenced. This could be as part of case management directions made by the judge or because of initiatives taken by one of the parties in an attempt to resolve the matter in a more constructive way.

 

Finally the client may also be able to sue the solicitor in negligence for work done out of court Griffiths v Dawson (1993). In this case the solicitor failed to make the correct application as part of divorce proceedings against her husband. As a result she was out of pocket and the court ordered that the solicitor compensate her accordingly. At one time it was the case that a client could not sue in negligence for work done in court but the House of Lords decided that this was wrong in Hall v Simmons (2000).

 

The ability to be able to sue in negligence is important in that it not only provides a remedy for the client, but for any third party who has been adversely affected by the negligent act of the solicitor. This has been taken to include persons it would have been reasonable for the professional to have foreseen as having an interest. This was illustrated in White v Jones (1995) when a father's intentions to create a legacy for his daughters was defeated by his solicitors delay in dealing with the matter. As a result the father died before the will was made by the solicitor with the result that the daughters did not inherit as was intended. The daughters successfully sued the solicitor for their loss.

 

(Word count 1298)

 

As always the essay lends itself to expansion and additional research using the links provided.

 

 

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