Number of complaints to law firms up 20% in five years


Complaints: Delay is the main cause

The number of complaints received by law firms went up by about a fifth between 2019 and 2023, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has found – but averages out at only four per practice.

Small, medium, and large firms receive proportionally more first-tier complaints (FTCs) compared to their volume of work. Very large firms receive proportionally fewer – they represent 59% of the profession’s revenue but only 12% of the complaints.

This was likely to be because the large corporate clients of such firms would typically have other routes to redress if there was poor service.

Law firms have eight weeks to provide a final, written response to a complaint before the client can contact the Legal Ombudsman (LeO).

In its annual review of FTCs, the SRA said at 36,887 last year, the number of complaints received was just under 10% higher than in 2022 and just under 20% more than the pre-Covid level in 2019.

It said this could be linked to the growth in the numbers of practising solicitors, while another reason “could be that, over this time period, consumers feel more comfortable to complain and challenge when not satisfied with the service they receive”.

Another explanation, the SRA said, could be the SRA’s transparency rules, introduced in 2018, requiring law firms to publish details of how they handle complaints, and when complaints could be made to LeO or the SRA.

The number of complaints resolved followed a similar pattern, growing from 24,776 in 2019 to 29,835 in 2023.

The SRA said the proportion of complaints resolved by law firms rose from 71% in 2013 to 81% in 2023.

When it came to resolving complaints, the very large law firms led the way, resolving almost all of them (98%).

Medium-sized and large law firms resolved 79% of FTCs in each case, with small firms resolving 68%.

The review said the weaker performance of small firms was “likely to be because larger firms have dedicated resources to handle complaints”.

The most common reasons for complaints were delay (20%), followed by failure to keep informed (17%), failure to progress, failure to advise and excessive costs.

The SRA found that complaints about excessive costs and a failure to keep clients informed were the least likely to be resolved, though in both cases the resolution rate was 74%.

The only types of complaint with very high levels of resolution at the first-tier stage were those small in number – all 13 concerning criminal activity and 50 of 54 relating to discrimination.

Earlier this month, the Legal Services Board published statutory requirements and guidance, along with a statement of policy, on first-tier complaints that all of the regulators are required to implement within the next 18 months, in a bid to improve performance.

Among other things, it said the regulators should ensure that information was published about the performance of law firms in resolving FTCs.




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