People rely on solicitors to manage some of the most important financial decisions of their lives, such as buying a house or writing a will. The wide spectrum of legal services solicitors provide includes divorce advice, help with running a business and assistance negotiating and posting bail. Solicitors perform a vital role in society, so you should know how to take them to task if they mess up.
The UK government set up the independent Legal Ombudsman to resolve complaints about solicitors and other law workers in 2010. The office deals with complaints about solicitors operating in England and Wales. Its Scottish equivalent, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, has been operating for longer – since 2008. Northern Ireland doesn't have an equivalent body. Complaints there are dealt with by the Law Society of Northern Ireland, a self-regulatory organisation run by a council of practising solicitors.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland will only accept your complaint after you've written to the practice you've experienced problems with. The firm concerned will then have 28 days to provide a response. If it doesn't reply within 28 days, you can take your complaint to the Law Society. Your complaint to the Law Society must be made within six months of your last dealings with the firm, receipt of an unsatisfactory response to your grievance or the discovery of a cause for complaint. You can complain to the Law Society if your solicitor provided an inadequate service, acted in a conflict of interest, mishandled your money or was dishonest.
England or Wales
You must give your firm of solicitors eight weeks to resolve your complaint. After receiving its final response, you'll have six months to escalate your grievance to the Legal Ombudsman if you're not satisfied with the way it dealt with your issue. You'll have 12 months to complain if your solicitor fails to reply. Over a period of time, an investigator will try to get you and your solicitor to settle the matter. If you don't, a report will be passed to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will then issue a judgement which both you and your solicitor will have the option of rejecting. If you accept the decision, your solicitor must comply with the Ombudsman's ruling, or face legal action. Accepting the decision removes your right to sue your solicitor. If you don't accept the Ombudsman’s decision, the case will be closed, leaving you with the option to take legal action.
Making a complaint in Scotland
Don't complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission before approaching your law firm directly. After you've given your solicitors an opportunity to deal with your grievance, you must file a complaint with the SLCC within six months of receiving a response, or within 12 months of the end of your business with the practice if no reply is forthcoming. The SLCC procedures are almost identical to those of the Legal Ombudsman. One difference, though, is that the Ombudsman is replaced by a committee. If both you and your solicitor do not accept the judgement of the committee, the SLCC withdraws from the case. You then have to decide whether to hire another solicitor and sue the offending law firm.