Law firms resolve over 80% of complaints in-house for first time

Complaints: Delay, failure to advise and excessive cost are main causes

The proportion of complaints about poor service successfully resolved in-house by law firms without reference to the Legal Ombudsman has topped 80% for the first time, it has emerged.

New figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) show that medium-sized law firms are attracting the most first-tier complaints (FTCs) in proportion to their turnover, the largest firms the fewest.

The total number of FTCs received by firms fell slightly in 2018 to just over 28,100, from over 28,500 the previous year.

However, the total number of FTCs resolved by law firms increased to over 22,800 in 2018 compared to around 19,000 in 2012 – the year when figures were first collected.

The proportion of complaints resolved in-house grew to 81% last year, up from 78% in 2017 and 72% in 2012. The second tier is unresolved complaints escalated to the ombudsman.

Small law firms, which account for only 3% of the total turnover of all firms, received 6% of the FTCs. Large firms, which account for 29% of turnover, received 49%.

Medium-sized firms came off worst, accounting for 13% of turnover, but 29% of complaints. Very large firms performed best – with 54% of turnover and only 14% of FTCs.

The SRA said these disparities were likely due to very large firms generating most of their turnover from large corporate clients “who would not use the same FTC process as individual clients, as they have other routes to redress if there is poor service”.

The most commonly resolved complaints were delay, failure to advise and excessive cost, followed by failure to keep informed, failure to progress and conduct.

The other significant categories were failure to follow instructions and deficient costs information.

Alongside a report containing the latest figures on FTCs, the SRA published a risk paper on standards of service, using data from previous research it and others has carried out – such as the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s annual tracker survey, which found last year that 88% of people were satisfied with the service they receive from solicitors and 65% said they felt solicitors offered good value for money.

The paper said: “Our new Standards and Regulations introduce two codes of conduct, for solicitors and firms, in November 2019.

“The codes have a greater focus on professional and ethical standards, rather than on compliance with prescriptive rules. This will also help people understand the standards they can expect from solicitors.”

It added that, in November, the online display of the ‘SRA regulated’ clickable logo would become mandatory for firms.

“Around a quarter of firms already use it on a voluntary basis. This study shows that people place more confidence in a firm that uses the logo, which will help them to see what protections are in place.”

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said: “People expect businesses to provide them with high levels of customer service on a day-to-day basis.

“The public don’t just want positive legal outcomes, they want to be treated fairly and kept well informed at all stages of dealing with a law firm.

“Nowhere is this more important than when handling with complaints. By being open and constructive, firms cannot only resolve issues quickly, but enhance their relationship with their client.”

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