Help! I've Had A Bad Experience! Making A Complaint About A Solicitor

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Flinn DolmanCo-Founder
Updated on 22nd February 2024
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The Legal Ombudsman received 7,824 complaints about solicitors in the 2022/2023 reporting year - a 6% increase from the previous year.

These statistics show that, unfortunately, not all solicitors live up to their professional standards, and you might find yourself in a situation where you need to make a complaint.

This article will provide an in-depth look into how to make a complaint against a solicitor in the UK, covering the grounds for complaints, steps to take before making a formal complaint, and how to escalate the issue if needed.

Which regulatory bodies hold solicitors accountable in the UK?

The main regulatory bodies for solicitors in the UK are the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Legal Ombudsman. The SRA, in addition to offering a way to check a solicitor's record, sets the professional standards for solicitors and investigates complaints involving misconduct.

The Legal Ombudsman investigates complaints regarding poor service and can award compensation for financial losses or emotional distress.

On what grounds can you make a complaint about a solicitor?

There are several reasons you might want to make a complaint against a solicitor in the UK. Some common grounds for complaints include:

Poor communication

Effective communication is essential for a successful solicitor-client relationship. If a solicitor fails to respond promptly to your calls or emails, provides unclear or inadequate advice, or neglects to keep you informed about your case's progress, it could be grounds for a complaint. An inability to establish and maintain clear lines of communication can lead to misunderstandings, delays, and dissatisfaction with the legal services provided.

See our guide to finding a solicitor for details on what good communication looks like.

Negligence

A solicitor has a professional duty to provide competent advice and representation. Professional negligence occurs when a solicitor provides incorrect advice, misses crucial deadlines, or makes errors that negatively impact your case.

Examples of negligence can include misinterpreting the law, failing to file documents on time, overlooking important evidence, or not properly preparing for a hearing or trial. These actions can result in significant consequences, such as lost opportunities, financial losses, or even the failure of your case.

Misconduct

Solicitors are expected to act with honesty, integrity, and professionalism.

Misconduct occurs when a solicitor engages in dishonest or unethical behaviour. Misconduct can undermine the trust you had with your solicitor, and more generally the integrity of the legal profession.

Reports of solicitor misconduct will appear on the solicitor's official record when others check that solicitor in the future

Overcharging

Solicitors have a responsibility to charge fair and reasonable fees for their services. Overcharging occurs when a solicitor charges excessive fees or fails to provide a clear breakdown of costs.

This can manifest as billing for services you never received, charging unreasonable hourly rates, inflating expenses such as land registry fees, or not providing a clear and accurate estimate of the cost at the outset of the case. Clients have a right to understand the costs involved in their case and should not be subject to unscrupulous billing practices.

At Lawhive we strongly recommend that you only work with a solicitor on a fixed fee basis. Doing so will allow you to “shop” your quote around to make sure you are getting a fair price.

What are the most common complaints against solicitors in the UK?

In its report, the Legal Ombudsman published data about the complaints it receives. The biggest areas for 2022-2023 were:

Complaints were most often about:

  1. Cases taking too long or not moving forward.

  2. Lawyers not giving good advice or not giving any at all.

  3. Lawyers not following their clients' instructions.

  4. Problems with how much legal services cost.

  5. Lawyers not keeping their clients updated on what's happening.

  6. Lawyers not responding to clients' messages.

What steps should you take before making a complaint against a solicitor?

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Before making a formal complaint, it's essential to try resolving the issue informally. You should try one or several of the following.

Discuss your concerns with the solicitor directly

As a first step, address your concerns directly to the solicitor involved. They may not be aware that you are unhappy, and discussing the issue with them may result in a prompt resolution.

Try scheduling a meeting or phone call to express your concerns, ask for clarification, and discuss a clear plan for getting back on track.

At Lawhive, we always recommend that people write up what they would like to discuss with their solicitor before any call or meeting. It’s a great way to be clearer and have a far more useful discussion.

Escalate your concerns within the firm

If discussing your concerns with the solicitor does not lead to a resolution, or if the issue persists, you should consider escalating your concerns to a more senior member of the firm.

This could be a partner, the head of the department, or the firm's complaints manager. In many cases, law firms have established complaint procedures, which you should follow to ensure your concerns are addressed appropriately.

Some firms operate as “sole practices”. In this case, you may be unable to contact anyone at the firm other than your solicitor.

If you have tried to contact your solicitor or their firm and the matter remains unresolved you can then proceed with a formal complaint.

By following these steps, you will have demonstrated a willingness to resolve the issue amicably and have allowed the solicitor and their firm to address any shortcomings in their service.

How to make a formal complaint against a solicitor

Follow these steps to make a formal complaint:

Depending on the nature of your complaint, you'll need to contact either the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

For complaints related to poor service, such as unresponsiveness or inadequate advice, the Legal Ombudsman is the appropriate body.

If your complaint involves misconduct, such as dishonesty or misappropriation of funds, contact the SRA.

  1. Depending on the nature of your complaint, you'll need to contact either the Legal Ombudsman or the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). For complaints related to poor service, such as unresponsiveness or inadequate advice, the Legal Ombudsman is the appropriate body. If your complaint involves misconduct, such as dishonesty or misappropriation of funds, contact the SRA.

  2. To ensure that your complaint is well-supported, you’ll need to provide all relevant documents, correspondence, and records. This may include emails, letters, phone call records, case documents, invoices, and any other evidence that substantiates your complaint. Organise your evidence clearly and chronologically, creating a timeline of events to help illustrate your complaint effectively.

  3. When submitting a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, it's essential to keep in mind the time limits for filing. Typically, complaints must be submitted within six months of the firm's final response to your concerns and no more than six years from the date when the issue occurred. For complaints submitted to the SRA, check their specific guidelines on time limits to ensure your complaint is filed on time.

  4. As the regulatory body reviews your complaint, they may request additional information or evidence to support their investigation. Be prepared to cooperate with their requests, providing any necessary documentation or clarification promptly. Demonstrating your willingness to assist in the investigation can help expedite the process and increase the likelihood of a satisfactory resolution.

What happens after a complaint is made?

After you’ve made a complaint, the regulatory body initiates an investigation process to examine the matter thoroughly.

They begin by reviewing the evidence provided by both you and the solicitor to determine whether there has been a breach of professional standards or misconduct. This review process may include interviewing all involved parties, such as you, the solicitor, and any relevant witnesses.

Depending on whether your complaint was made to the SRA or the Legal Ombudsmen your solicitor's actions will be compared against the SRA Code of Conduct or the Legal Ombudsman's Customer Service Principles.

Based on the regulator's findings, they’ll decide whether the solicitor's actions warrant disciplinary action. Disciplinary measures can range from a reprimand, fine, suspension, or even disbarment.

In cases involving the Legal Ombudsman, they may also award compensation for any financial losses or emotional distress resulting from the solicitor's poor service.

Once the investigation is complete, you’ll be provided with a written explanation of the outcome. The duration of the investigation can vary, depending on the complexity of the case.

How to escalate a complaint if you're not satisfied with the outcome

If you're unhappy with the outcome of your complaint, you’ll have several options to escalate the issue:

  1. Request a review of the decision from the regulatory body. Both the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman have internal review processes that allow you to challenge their decision if you believe it is flawed or unfair.

  2. Seek legal advice. If you believe the outcome of your complaint is unjust, you may want to consult with another solicitor to explore your options for taking the matter to court or pursuing alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or arbitration. If you do decide to go down this route it’s probably wise to avoid getting help from the solicitor you are complaining about!

Can a solicitor charge for a complaint?

According to the SRA Code of Conduct, solicitors have to handle any complaints (including those made about their fees) free of charge.

From the start, a solicitor must tell you how you can make a complaint and they have to deal with those complaints fairly and promptly.

Before filing a complaint... Talk to your solicitor

Knowing how to make a complaint against a solicitor is crucial to ensuring that you receive the quality legal services you deserve.

By understanding the grounds for complaints, the steps to take before making a formal complaint, the roles of the regulatory bodies, and how to escalate the issue if necessary, you can confidently advocate for your interests and hold your solicitor accountable for their actions.

Remember, while it's completely reasonable to pursue a complaint when warranted, it's equally important to maintain open communication with your solicitor and provide them with an opportunity to address your concerns before escalating the matter.

How can we help?

At Lawhive, our team of expert solicitors is here to assist you with your legal needs promptly and affordably. All our lawyers offer remote services through our user-friendly platform, empowering you to access responsive and attentive legal help from anywhere for fixed fees.

If you've had a negative experience with a solicitor, you have options. Whether you're considering changing no-win, no-fee solicitors or pursuing a professional negligence claim against a solicitor who has let you down, reach out to us today for a free case assessment.

Our expert team will help you explore your options and determine the best next steps for your situation.

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