1. Records to be kept (Rule B5.5.1)
It is not intended that the record keeping exercise should simply be an administrative one. Experience shows that keeping records of complaints received can assist a practice unit in identifying areas which need to be improved in the service to clients and often point up either problems with systems or the way in which a member of staff may be dealing with matters. It is considered that the Client Relations Manager of a practice unit should hold a record of all complaints received even if the practice unit itself splits into various different departments for business. That way the Client Relations Manager can get an overview of the work being carried out and where difficulties may be arising.
The central record itself could take various forms. It is accepted that the central record might simply be a file retained by the Client Relations Manager with the correspondence received in connection with complaints showing what has happened and how they have been dealt with. However, either instead of or in addition to that, a number of practice units keep a central summary record of complaints which they have received.
That record could show the following information:
1. The name of the client.
2. The type of business giving rise to the concern.
3. The name of the individual involved.
4. The concerns expressed by the client.
5. The action taken to deal with the complaint.
6. Any other issues arising.
This type of record does help a Client Relations Manager see at a glance if there is a common theme to complaints being made, or common issues that might need to be tackled. It is recommended that records of individual complaints should be retained for five years from the date the matter is resolved or closed.
2. Written procedure (Rule B5.5.2)
In September 2001 a protocol was published in the Journal (page 8) for handling complaints within firms. The principles set out in that protocol have not altered in the intervening years. It is believed that where a client wants to make a complaint they should be given clear written information about what to do, who to contact, and how to set out the complaint. It is suggested that the written procedure should be kept as simple as possible and can be contained either in a leaflet or on a single A4 sheet of paper which can be handed to a client who indicates they wish to make a complaint.
The essentials of the procedure are considered to be as follows:
1. Who should the client contact in the first instance if they have a concern?
It could be the solicitor they are instructing, the departmental head or the Client Relations Manager.
2. What should they do if they are dissatisfied with the answer they receive?
At that stage should they contact the Client Relations Manager or if they have been to the Client Relations Manager they can be advised to contact the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
3. What information does the practice unit need from them to enable them to investigate the complaint?
4. What timescales will be involved in dealing with the complaint?
5. Will the matter be dealt with in writing or will the complainer be offered a meeting to discuss matters?
6. How will the matter be finalised?
7. Will a letter or other form of communication be sent confirming the outcome of any attempt to resolve matters or set out, if matters are not resolved, why they have not been resolved?
There is a need to be aware of the Equality Act 2010 and to vary the procedure if the client seeking to express concern either has difficulty in reading or writing, or has language or other difficulties which would make communications in writing a barrier to them.