Client complaints against their solicitors are continuing to decline, according to the latest figures released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Figures for the first half of the SLCC’s operational year (1 July-31 December 2014) show that, overall, the number of complaints received fell to 459 from 519 in the same period the previous year, continuing the trend of previous years.
The percentage rejected at the initial stage, however, was significantly down, from 52% to 37% (246 complaints down to 153), while those accepted as eligible complaints or resolved during the SLCC's eligibility process rose from 42% to 57% (201 complaints up to 238). They represent almost 60% of all received complaints (up from just over 40% in the corresponding period in 2013).
The number of accepted complaints which were then either resolved or upheld in favour of the complainer also increased, from 97 to 115, comprising 22 mediated cases (down from 25), 46 conciliated or settled (up from 28), and 47 upheld (up from 44). Nineteen complaints were withdrawn by the complainer (up from 10), and 39 were not upheld (down from 42).
Although a survey carried out late last year for the Law Society of Scotland indicated a high overall level of public satisfaction with solicitors, the SLCC comments that a high level of service provision "is unfortunately not a universal experience". It noted: "As our figures show, we are increasingly providing redress for those clients who receive a poor service from their solicitors – a picture also supported by the record level of compensation awards and refunds of legal fees we highlighted in our last annual report."
The SLCC also describes as "revealing", figures from the Society's survey which show that of those who were dissatisfied with their solicitor, only a third did anything about it, and none knew they could refer their complaint to the SLCC.
"Solicitors throughout Scotland have a duty to make their clients aware of the SLCC and how to make a complaint to us", it comments. "We continue to see evidence that this is not happening – less than 5% of those who complain to us say that they found out about us from their solicitor. We are concerned that, as a result, the voices of many dissatisfied clients are just not being heard. As a priority, we are currently working with the Law Society to ensure that all solicitors provide clear and consistent signposting to our service."
it will also be examining what more it can do to increase public awareness of its existence, through its consumer panel, newly established this year.
Commenting on the figures, Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said the Society was "pleased to see the continued efforts which the SLCC is making to deal with service complaints effectively", but the Society was not complacent about public satisfaction. "In addition to ensuring that we have robust regulatory systems in place, it’s important that we can understand the reasons behind clients' dissatisfaction and what we at the Law Society can do to provide the right support, information and training for our members to ensure that solicitors offer the advice and services that their clients need and that we can continue to drive up standards", she continued.
“We will work with the SLCC to ensure that the legal complaints system in Scotland continues to improve.”