Describe how complaints against solicitors are dealt with

Because solicitors deal with their clients direct and enter into a contract with them this means that the solicitor can sue for his fees if he is not paid and also allows the client to sue if the solicitor does not do his work.

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Solicitors deal directly with clients and enter into a contract with them. This allows the solicitor to sue for his fees if the client does not pay however it also allows the client to sue if the solicitor does not do the work. However before bringing proceedings of any kind the client can complain directly to their solicitors' office.

An action may be brought a solicitor for breach of contract or in negligence if appropriate.. Many would argue that a breach of contract is more straight forward than a negligence action.

Clients may sue solicitors for negligence in or out of the court.  For example in Griffiths v Dawson (1993) where solicitors for the claimant failed to make the proper application for divorce proceedings against her husband.  The result was that the plaintiff lost out financially and the solicitors were ordered to pay her £21,000 in compensation.

It is not only the client who can sue for negligence, others affected can sue as in the case of White v Jones (1995) where a father ordered his solicitors to write him a will that gave his two daughters £9,000. By the time the father died later in the year the will had not been made. The result was that the daughters lost out and successfully sued the solicitors for their £9,000 that each had lost.

It used to be held that a solicitor who was presenting a case in court could not be sued for negligence, however in Hall v Simmons (2000) the House of Lords decided that advocates can be liable for negligence.

Problems have been experienced with the complaints procedure that the Law Society operates.  One of the main concerns has been that the Law Society represents both the solicitor’s interests and the clients.  A court decision in 1986 highlighted this conflict of interests when it was decided that Glanville Davies, a solicitor and member of the Law Society’s council had overcharged someone by £131,000.  When the Law Society investigated the complaint they decided that Davies had acted properly. Following the court decision Davies was struck off and the Law Society decided they needed a more independent complaints procedure.  This led to the setting up of the Solicitor’s Complaints Bureau.  However this was criticised for its slowness and inefficiency when dealing with complaints. A survey taken by the Law Society in 1995 revealed that in a review of 2,246 complainants two out of three complainants were dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint.

Due both to these findings and the heavy criticism by the Legal Services Ombudsman in 1996 the Law Society abolished the Solicitor’s Complaint Bureau and instead set up the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors.  However even this new “watchdog” was still funded by the Law Society.  This means that complaints about the lack of a truly independent complaints service were still valid. The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors was also criticised for delays.


The professions self regulation was still viewed as ineffective and in 2004 David Clementi carried out a review of the profession and a large area that was considered was regulation.  He recommended a new board regulator, The Legal Services Board (LSB) should be created and it would be responsible for over
seeing every aspect of the regulation of the legal profession.  The Board would be able to develop regulatory functions. Whilst the Legal Services Board has responsibility for the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales, the board cannot intervene in any new or ongoing complaint or dispute that a member of the public may have with a lawyer. As will be seen below the role of investigating complaints has become the role the Legal Ombudsman.

 

All service complaints about lawyers should be directed to the Legal Ombudsman  He also recommended that a new complaints body called the Office for Legal Complaints should be set up, this would handle all complaints from consumers of legal services.  The reaction from the Law Society to the suggestions was positive and they have already started to separate their regulatory and representative functions and the Law Society is beginning to have more lay involvement in the complaints procedure.

The
Access to Justice Act 1999 gave the Lord Chancellor the power to appoint a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner.  This was done in 2003 mostly due to the continuing problem with the Law Society’s handling of the complaints against solicitors. The Legal Service Complaints Commissioner also had the right to investigate and make recommendations about the handling of complaints and set targets for complaints and a fine if the target is not reached.

However now that the
Legal Services Act 2007 has been fully implemented including the setting up of the Legal Ombudsman the Legal services complaints commissioner has been abolished. The Legal Ombudsman was established by the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), under the Legal Services Act 2007 and began accepting complaints on 6 October 2010. The Legal Ombudsman is seen as an independent and impartial office set up to help resolve complaints about solicitors and as part of their role can order a solicitor or the Law Society to pay compensation to a client.

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