Conveyancers take the lead in complaints league table

Last month the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) released their annual report and accounts for 2013-14. The report appears to suggest troubling information for solicitors practising residential conveyancing; the department has now overtaken family law as the main cause of complaints from consumers.

The figures cover the year until 31st March 2014, but the report has only recently been published following delays of several months. This was due to a number of factors, including the accounts probe of former chief ombudsman Adam Sampson and other financial issues.

The report reveals that residential conveyancing accounted for a fifth of all complaints, up from 15% in the last report – now overtaking family law which stands at 17%. The next most complained about legal sectors were wills and probate (13%), personal injury (10%) and litigation (9.5%). Commercial conveyancing meanwhile made up 2% of all complaints.

The most common areas of complaints for conveyancing include:

  • Delays
  • Poor cost information
  • A failure to provide adequate advice or background information
  • Failure to follow instructions

Unfortunately it appears there may be a growing trend from consumers to blame the lawyer if anything goes wrong during the transaction. As a result, it is important any solicitor or conveyancer reiterates to a client that they should be made aware of any concern they have during the transaction, whether small or large. This is to then allow enquiries to be made of the problem and avoid the matter of not discovering the client’s issue until they attempt to take it up with the Legal Ombudsman.

Though conveyancers now lie at the head of the complaints table, this should not necessarily be viewed as negative. With an increase in the percentage of complaints, it can be inferred that there is a growth in the housing market and the conveyancing sector, as it is inevitable that more transactions will lead to more complaints. All solicitors and conveyancers should be braced for an increase in residential conveyancing transactions and associated complaints if this data does suggest a trend. The report ought to be more troubling for solicitors practising in area where complaints have shrunk; they should to be concerned with the implications of a correlation between diminishing complaints and a shrinking legal sector. There need be no such worries for residential conveyancers.

What is somewhat troubling for the professionals is that more cases were resolved this year through Ombudsman’s decisions rather than informal resolution between the two parties. When an informal resolution can’t be reached, either party may request the Ombudsman to make a final decision on the case – a method focused more on a decisive verdict rather than an amicable resolution. It seems consumers wish to deplete every avenue they can and pursue a complaint as far as they possibly can, before accepting a decision against their solicitor. The LeO confirms that in the majority of cases it is the complainant who requests a final decision by an Ombudsman.

In addition to this, no poor service was found in an overwhelming 48% of total complaints made, leading to the questioning of whether more rigorous criteria is needed by the LeO to decide which complaint applications to accept. This is particularly true when acknowledging the time and financial cost to a law firm when being made to deal with a complaint.

Consequently, before any complaint reaches the Legal Ombudsman, a remedy should attempt to be brokered between the consumer and the service provider. Where possible, solicitors should look to try and resolve the complaint at this first tier in an amicable manner, within eight weeks of the client raising the problem. After this period of time the person can request the involvement of the LeO. With concerns over the Ombudsman’s staff understanding the legal issue and whether the investigation is fair and impartial, a first tier resolution may be a preferable outcome.

It remains important, therefore, that any solicitor or conveyancer remains capable of providing an excellent standard of service in an ever changing legal landscape, in order to try and combat this growing trend of complaints. Today’s Conveyancer provides training courses for customer-facing staff, including dealing with difficult clients who may be likely to offer up a complaint. Please visit the Today’s Conveyancer Training page for more information.

The full report for the LeO annual report ending 31/03/2014 can be found here.

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