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Source: Which? Press Office

Which? Press Release 2001

Which? Press Release 2005

Which? Press Release 2006

Which? Legal Services Reform consultation response 2006

29 - 06 - 2004 Unprofessional behaviour, negligence and mistakes… solicitors aren't improving, says Which?

Some solicitors aren't even following the most basic codes of professional conduct, such as acting in their clients' best interests, according to the results of a new Which? survey of people who felt they had shoddy service from their solicitors.

Unprofessional behaviour was the top complaint in Scotland. Negligence (not carrying out the service with reasonable skill or care) was second: more than half those surveyed said their solicitor was negligent. The third most complained about problem was mistakes being made, which happened to more than half those surveyed.

Other complaints included solicitors not replying to letters or phone calls, meaning people felt they were being 'kept in the dark' and 'totally worn down by the business of chasing'. Over a third of people didn't think their solicitor treated them with respect; one woman said her solicitor was '…so rude and sarcastic, he left me in tears for days'.

Many - more than 40 per cent - of those who said they'd received poor service failed to complain. The main reason given was that they felt there was no point, but some people said they'd have found it too stressful or upsetting. A few even felt threatened - one said she didn't want to complain for 'fear of repercussions'.

Almost all those who did complain to their solicitors' practice were unhappy with the way their complaint was dealt with. Nearly three quarters said their complaint wasn't resolved.

People who escalate their complaint to the next stage - the Law Society of Scotland - may not fare much better. The organisation's complaints-handling performance has been criticised by the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman in the past and they have recently overhauled their system.

After the Justice Committee's inquiry into the regulation of the legal profession in November 2002, Scottish ministers accepted that Scotland's legal system was in need of reform to increase public confidence in its fairness, efficiency and effectiveness.

Which? has submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling on the Scottish Executive to implement the findings of the inquiry. Recommendations include a single gateway for complaints, more powers of investigation for the Ombudsman and an increase in compensation.

Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, says:

"The most common reasons for people using a solicitor are also the most stressful experiences in life: bereavement, divorce and moving home. The last thing people need at times like that is to be stressed out further by shoddy service from their solicitor.

We're concerned that while the government is currently reviewing the legal profession in England and Wales, Scotland risks failing to move forward with a fairer and more modern legal services complaints procedure. We're calling on the Scottish Executive to stop prevaricating and implement the Justice Committee inquiry's findings sooner rather than later."

Ends

Notes to Editors:

Top ten complaints about solicitors in Scotland (from Which?'s survey)

They behaved unprofessionally - 65%

They were negligent (i.e. they did not carry out the service with reasonable skill or care) -59%

They made mistakes in the work they did for clients - 57%

There were excessive delays in the handling of clients' cases - 54%

Clients were given inaccurate or incomplete information - 54%

Clients' instructions were not followed / carried out -51%

Clients were not treated respectfully - 49%

Clients were given bad advice - 46%

They often didn't reply to clients' letters and / or phone calls - 43%

They behaved dishonestly - 41%

The Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman's Annual Report will be published on Tuesday 6 July. For a copy of the Justice Committee's 2002 inquiry into the regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, please visit www.scottish.parliament.uk-S1/official_report/cttee/just1-01

Research notes

In January, Which? placed ads in the press asking people who felt they'd had shoddy service from a solicitor in the past three years to contact it. It also placed a notice on its website asking members who'd had problems with solicitors to contact it.

Which? sent 807 questionnaires to people who got in touch, and received 321 completed replies. Most of the people who replied live in England or Wales: 12 per cent were from Scotland and 1 per cent from Northern Ireland. The legal system in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, but the kinds of problem they raised were similar. For a press release covering findings in England and Wales, please contact the press office.


Solicitors in England

Delays, negligence and mistakes…solicitors aren’t improving, says Which?

Which? is calling for the government’s review of solicitors in England and Wales to put an end to self-regulation after exposing serious problems with quality of service and the way complaints are handled.

In a new survey of people who felt they’d had shoddy service from their solicitors, Which? found cases where solicitors hadn’t even followed the most basic rules of professional conduct, such as acting in their clients’ best interests. The findings, together with official complaints figures, show that solicitors haven’t improved since Which? investigated three years ago.*

Excessive delays were the top complaint. Two thirds of people in the survey said they weren’t given any sort of estimate at the outset of how long their case would take. Of those who were, nearly two thirds said it ended up taking longer.

Negligence** was second: more than half those surveyed said their solicitor was negligent. The third most complained about problem was mistakes being made, which happened to more than half those surveyed.

Other complaints included solicitors not replying to letters or phone calls, meaning people felt they were being ‘kept in the dark’ and ‘totally worn down by the business of chasing’. Over a third of people didn’t think their solicitor treated them with respect; one woman said her solicitor was ‘…so rude and sarcastic, he left me in tears for days’.

Many - more than 40 per cent - of those who said they’d received poor service failed to complain. The main reason given was that they felt there was no point, but some people said they’d have found it too stressful or upsetting. A few even felt threatened – one said she didn’t want to complain for ‘fear of repercussions’.

Almost all those who did complain to their solicitors’ practice were unhappy with the way their complaint was dealt with. Nearly three quarters said their complaint wasn’t resolved.

People who escalate their complaint to the next stage – the Law Society - may not fare much better. After being warned that its complaints-handling performance was inadequate, the Law Society has recently overhauled the system.

Whether there will be any real improvements remains to be seen. Some respondents shared Which?’s concern about the impartiality of the current system of self-regulation. One person described the Law Society as “a body that is ‘drinking at the same waterhole’ as the legal hyenas it purports to be checking up on.”

The current government review will examine whether the Law Society can adequately regulate its own members. Which? will be calling on Sir David Clementi, who is leading the review, to put an end to self-regulation, and to introduce a system of independent regulation in its place.

Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, says:

“The most common reasons for people using a solicitor are also the most stressful experiences in life: bereavement, divorce and moving home. The last thing people need at times like that is to be stressed out further by shoddy service from their solicitor.

The government’s review of the way solicitors are regulated is long overdue. It makes no sense for solicitors to be regulated by a body that promotes their interests at the same time. Consumers need to be able to put their faith in a system which puts their interests above those of the profession.”

- ENDS –

Notes to editors

Top ten complaints about solicitors in England and Wales (from Which?’s survey)

1 Excessive delays in the handling of clients’ cases -71 per cent

2 They were negligent (i.e. they did not carry out the service with reasonable skill or care) – 59 per cent

3 They made mistakes in the work they did for clients – 57 per cent

4 They often didn’t reply to clients’ letters and / or phone calls - 57 per cent

5 They didn’t keep clients informed about the progress of your case – 54 per cent

6 They behaved unprofessionally – 52 per cent

7 Clients were given inaccurate or incomplete information – 48 per cent

8 Clients’ instructions were not followed / carried out – 46 per cent

9 Clients were given bad advice – 38 per cent

10 Clients were not treated respectfully – 37 per cent

The Legal Ombudsman’s report will be published on Wednesday 7 July.

Footnotes

*’Arrogant, incompetent, negligent and unprofessional’, Which? August 2001

**Negligence was defined in the survey as ‘they did not carry out the service with reasonable skill or care’.

Research notes

In January, Which? placed ads in the press asking people who felt they’d had shoddy service from a solicitor in the past three years to contact it. It also placed a notice on its website asking members who’d had problems with solicitors to contact it.

Which? sent 807 questionnaires to people who got in touch, and received 321 completed replies. Most of the people who replied live in England or Wales: 12 per cent were from Scotland and 1 per cent from Northern Ireland. The legal system in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, but the kinds of problem they raised were similar. For a press release covering findings in Scotland, please contact the press office.


 

Contact the Which? Press Office

 

 

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