There is an “underlying core of dissatisfaction with legal service provision, expressed through the complaints system, that is not changing or being sufficiently addressed”, the chief legal ombudsman has said.
Paul McFadden said types of complaints to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) had “remained consistent”, with delay and failure to advise leading the way, followed by poor communication, costs and failure to follow instructions.
An overview of complaints data for 2020/21 by LeO showed that most complaints (30%) were about conveyancing, rising from 28% the previous year.
This compared with 14% that concerned family law, and 13% personal injury and private client work. Litigation came fifth, with 8%.
The report found that LeO had accepted 4,573 new cases and concluded 4,702, much lower than the 6,425 accepted and 6,342 resolved in the previous 12 months, a decrease which LeO attributed to the pandemic.
There was evidence of poor service in 55% of complaints, up from 51% the year before.
LeO said that, in conveyancing, “managing expectations early on and talking to your customer about their needs could alleviate a lot of the complaints we see”, with first-time buyers requiring more updates.
“When it comes to costs, we understand that providers can’t see into the future, but we do expect you to give a broad overview of what a straightforward transaction looks like as well as possible costs associated to more complex issues.
“If something out of the ordinary happens, notify the customer as soon as possible.”
Failing to meet expectations was also a “big driver” of complaints in personal injury, “whether it be a change in the merits of a case, the prospects of success, progression to court or a dissatisfaction with the settlement received”.
Although funding could be complex to explain in simple terms, “a lot of complaints” arose when it was communicated poorly.
“When funding is well explained and evidenced by an attendance note or call log and followed up in writing, we are unlikely to find poor service.”
LeO highlighted failure to update residuary beneficiaries as one of the main reasons behind wills and probate complaints.
“Too often we find that service providers are not updating the residuary beneficiaries of important changes in timeframes, even if the update is that there won’t be any communication for a period while the case progresses. Let the customer know that everything is in hand.
“Costs is another area where service providers sometimes fail to adequately update the parties. Costs can unexpectedly increase for several reasons, even in a straightforward probate case.”
Costs again featured prominently in family law. “A lot of service providers give reasonable costs information at the outset.
“The issues we see are usually around the unexpected and unpredictable areas of work and the downfall is usually around not communicating this properly or in a timely manner to the customer.”
With litigation, LeO highlighted both costs and “the cost-benefit analysis so that the customer can make an informed decision about whether a claim is worth the likely costs associated”.