Client complaints and claims against us

A constructive, quick and effective approach to client complaints
 
We want our clients to feel comfortable providing us with feedback so that we can develop and provide the best possible service.
We encourage our staff to focus on how best to resolve the client’s concerns. Staff should not be defensive or argumentative. Whatever the merits or history of a complaint it is always in our interests for the client to feel satisfied with the service received where this can reasonably be achieved.
 
We should be conscious that some clients may find it difficult to raise or communicate concerns with us. We should do our best to help clients communicate concerns to us and to understand what we do.
 
Staff should deal with any concerns raised as soon as possible. If you are unsure how to approach a complaint or a more informal concern about our service then speak with your line manager or our client care and complaints officer.
 
Our complaints policy and reporting formal complaints
 
Our Feedback and Client Complaints Policy (which includes information about the role of the Legal Ombudsman) must be brought to the client’s attention in writing:
  • at the beginning of our relationship with the client (it is made clear to clients in our standard client care information how clients can obtain a copy of the policy);
  • upon request; and
  • if a concern is raised about our service. This will ensure that the client is informed straight away of how the complaint will be handled and the timescales for doing so.
In terms of bringing the policy to our client’s attention where a concern is raised, bear in mind that a complaint won’t always include the word ‘complaint’. The SRA has historically defined a complaint as any “oral or written expression of dissatisfaction which alleges that the complainant has suffered (or may suffer) financial loss, distress, inconvenience or other detriment”. While this definition has been removed from the 2019 rulebook we continue to make use of this definition as it is a helpful summary.
 
We should bear in mind that the Legal Services Ombudsman will even consider complaints from non-clients in some circumstances.
 
As above, if it becomes clear that a client is not satisfied with our service then the fee earner dealing should refer the client to our Feedback and Client Complaints Policy.
 
The lawyer dealing should also generally provide appropriate assurances, explanations and make suggestions with a view to resolving the issue informally. However, in some cases it will never be appropriate for the lawyer dealing to seek to resolve the concern informally in this way. The following issues should always be treated as a formal complaint and the procedure set out in our Feedback and Client Complaints Policy for dealing formally with a complaint should be followed:
  • concerns which are not promptly resolved to the satisfaction of the client informally;
  • concerns raised by clients who have previously expressed dissatisfaction in their matter;
  • a suggestion that there has been professional negligence (which must also be notified to our negligence and indemnity officer);
  • a suggestion that there has been professional misconduct;
  • a suggestion that we or our staff have failed to meet our equality and diversity commitments;
  • concerns which otherwise appear more formal in nature, such as where a client has made it clear that they wish to make a formal complaint to someone other than the lawyer dealing with their matter.
As soon as it becomes clear that a concern raised must be dealt with formally under our feedback and complaints policy then an entry must be made on our central complaints log. The SRA’s 2019 rulebook introduced a strict timescale of 8 weeks for either providing the client with a final response to a complaint or directing them to the Ombudsman so the sooner managers become aware of the issue the better. This allows us to record formal complaints on our complaints register for SRA and insurer reporting purposes. The notification form and register allow us to begin the complaints process (see our Feedback and Client Complaints Policy for more information) and spot trends / any reoccurring issues. It is therefore very important that these logs are updated.
 
It is not however necessary to log a matter where there has been a simple misunderstanding or any other issue arises which can be quickly and informally resolved to the complete satisfaction of the client without the need to follow the complaints process.
 
High risk behaviours when handling a complaint
 
Staff must never:
  • charge a client for the time spent dealing with a complaint;
  • pressure a client to drop their complaint;
  • pressure a client not to raise their concerns with the Legal Ombudsman or SRA or other authority.
This does not mean that we should not seek to resolve complaints amicably and without the matter escalating further, we should. The client however should feel free to pursue their concerns as they see fit if they remain unsatisfied with the steps we have taken to resolve them.
 
Staff should not threaten or issue defamation proceedings in respect of a client complaint. If you genuinely feel that defamation proceedings are appropriate then discuss this with our key contact / owner for this area. There is significant risk of such action being viewed very dimly by our regulators. Our key contact / owner for this area will consider the relevant provisions and seek advice if necessary.
 
Common complaints
 
The Legal Ombudsman has published data on the most common issues which clients complaint about. We ask staff to bear these common client concerns in mind and take extra care to avoid them.
A failure to advise the client properly of all of the relevant issues and a failure to do what the client instructed are by far the two most common complaints made to the Ombudsman. These concerns could easily arise from a misunderstanding between the lawyer and the client about what the lawyer can do and is going to do for the client. We encourage staff to use plain language in communicating to clients where possible. The following are also very common reasons for complaints being made to the Ombudsman from the perspective of the client:
  • excessive costs;
  • delay;
  • insufficient costs information;
  • failure to keep client information confidential;
  • failure to keep the client informed; and
  • failure to progress the client’s matter.
Mistakes and other issues which may lead to a claim against us
 
You must inform your line manager and our Negligence and Indemnity Officer of claims and potential claims against us immediately (i.e. for professional negligence).
A line manager should take conduct of all such matters and they should be overseen closely by the Negligence and Indemnity Officer. For example, the Negligence and Indemnity Officer should approve the letter to the client notifying them of the problem.
Generally speaking we will:
  • inform the client of the issue;
  • explain what we have done or will do to resolve this (if appropriate); and
  • advise the client that they may wish to take independent legal advice.
It may be appropriate in some cases to offer the client an apology but do not do so until you have been guided by your line manager and indemnity officer on this.
In some circumstances, where the problem is minor, we may be able to remedy the issue without the need for further advice to be taken by the client.

Being candid when things go wrong

The SRA’s 2019 rulebook extended the duties to inform clients of problems beyond the circumstances in which potential grounds for a professional negligence claim arise. If ‘things go wrong’ then we should be frank and candid about the problem and the likely impact. That does not mean that clients need to be informed of very minor matters of no material relevance to them. However, if something has gone wrong and there will be an impact upon the client, even if it does not give rise to a negligence claim, then speak to your line manager and if necessary our COLP about how the issue should be reported to the client.

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