If you’ve had poor levels of service or been given bad advice by your solicitor or barrister you’ll be able to take your complaint to a new legal ombudsman service (if you live in England or Wales). The Legal Ombudsman will be free to use, will try and find the story behind the complaint and can order firms to pay redress and compensation.
The Legal Ombudsman – what can I complain about?
If you’ve got a complaint about the way your solicitor or other legal professional — such as a barrister, licensed conveyancer or trademark attorney – has handled your affairs, whether it’s about the advice you were given or the way your case was dealt with you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman. It will deal with complaints about:
- A wide range of issues. It can handle complaints about any legal matter involving consumers, small businesses or charities and trusts. For example, it will cover complaints about buying a house, wills and probate and personal injury.
SAVVY TIP: You have to have complained to the law firm in the first instance and given them eight weeks to either resolve your complaint or to tell you that they can’t or won’t do any more.
- An issue where you realised there was a problem within the last year. This doesn’t relate to when the lawyer carried out the work for you as it may be the case that everything seemed fine at the time.
SAVVY TIP: Once you’ve been through the lawyer’s complaints service and your complaint hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily, you must make sure you complain to the Legal Ombudsman within six months.
What can it make legal firms do?
The Legal Ombudsman can make lawyers put right the work they’ve carried out or pay you financial compensation. The range of options open include:
- Making the law firm apologise.
- Making the law firm reduce or refund legal fees.
- Making the law firm put right work it’s already done.
- Making the law firm pay you compensation of up to £30,000. This is for inconvenience, emotional distress and upset and is the maximum payable. In most cases any compensation is likely to be far less.
SAVVY TIP: This doesn’t mean that you can only get redress if you think your solicitor’s advice left you financially worse off by less than £30,000 as the ombudsman can force law firms to put the matter right (i.e. restore you in the position they believe you should have been in) and order that they pay compensation on top.
What isn’t covered by the Legal Ombudsman
You can only complain about a lawyer or barrister acting for you, you cannot complain about someone else’s lawyer. So, for example, if you’re going through a divorce and you feel that your husband’s divorce lawyer isn’t acting fairly or is rude you would have to complain to one of the legal regulators such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority, for England and Wales. There’s a different system in Scotland (see below).
Legal complaints schemes in Scotland
If you want to complain about a solicitor or lawyer in Scotland you can do so via the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. It operates under slightly different rules to the Legal Ombudsman.
- Take complaints from third parties. If you have a complaint about someone else’s solicitor, you can complain about them.
- Offer mediation. People who complain have the option of going to a mediator rather than having their complaint dealt with by an ombudsman.
- Oversee complaints it has passed on. If a complaint relates to a solicitor’s conduct rather than the service they’ve provided, the SLCC will pass it to one of the regulators but will make sure that the complaint has been followed up.
- Award compensation up to £20,000. It has a lower compensation limit than the Legal Ombudsman.
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