Solicitors should get training in “soft skills/empathy” as part of their continuing professional development (CPD), research for the Legal Services Board (LSB) has suggested.
Members of the LSB’s public panel, which helps it develop future policies, also suggested that lawyers should be trained in customer service, particularly customer-facing staff.
The LSB commissioned Community Research to explore consumer expectations when complaining about legal services.
This took the form of “in-depth deliberative research” – an online forum with 45 public panellists who had used legal services within the last two years to explore their experiences of making complaints.
This was followed by a collaborative workshop with 12 public panel participants and 10 professional stakeholders, which was designed to explore opportunities to “minimise complaints arising at the outset” and improve the complaints-handling journey for consumers.
On CPD, the LSB said the workshop discussions “touched upon the possibility of including soft skills/empathy as a component of continuing professional development for legal professionals and whether or not such training should be mandated for providers who receive a high number of complaints”.
Public panellists “felt that providers could appear dismissive of a complaint” and the language and tone they used “could be formal to the point of being cold”.
Raising a complaint was seen as stressful and “a lack of empathy was picked out as a particular weakness of current processes”.
There was also “talk of training legal services providers in customer service more broadly”, highlighting soft skills such as empathy and how to deal with dissatisfaction. “Some suggested this could include training for all client-facing staff.”
Complaints information should be available on request, “potentially sent out as part of ongoing feedback mechanisms” and clearly visible on websites, ensuring that law firms were not too reliant on the client-care letter as a source of information.
There was “some suggestion” that law firms should share more information on the number of complaints received and their outcomes so clients could make “informed choices” about providers – the recent Solicitors Regulation Authority-led research into online shopping for lawyers suggested something similar.
However, some of the stakeholders pushed back against this, explaining that some types of law generated more complaints than others and smaller firms naturally dealt with fewer complaints.
“Whilst participants recognised that contextualisation of the information was crucial, there appeared to be no agreed way of achieving this and it is an area that would potentially benefit from further exploration.”
Meanwhile, the online forum revealed some “missed opportunities to resolve early client dissatisfaction”, with clients experiencing a “wide variation of complaints processes within legal services, many of which fell below their expectations”.
Some clients “were put off complaining directly to a legal services provider because they had received poor customer service generally and did not trust the provider to handle their complaint well”.
Alan Kershaw, chair of the LSB, said law firms should “proactively seek feedback – good and bad – from consumers” and use it to improve services.
“As the research makes clear, empathy is central to effective resolution of complaints… it is vital to put yourself in the shoes of a complainant. Empathy helps manage consumer expectations and improves the design of services.”
The LSB is to launch a consultation later this month on updated policy and guidance for regulators on first-tier complaints.