Two out of three law firms are failing to tell clients about their right to complain to The Legal Ombudsman at the end of the complaints procedure according to new research.  The Chief Legal Ombudsman says the figures are disappointing as law firms have a professional obligation to tell clients about the ombudsman service.

The research, commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Legal Ombudsman shows that there could be improvements in how law firms deal with complaints.

It reports that firms frequently misunderstand their client’s priorities.  Two thirds of firms (64%) think a good legal outcome is the top client priority, but only 33% of clients agree with most wanting regular communication (62%) instead.

Nine out of ten firms (93%) say that it makes good business sense for firms to handle complaints well, yet many are failing to meet client’s expectations.  Less than half of clients who had complained (43%) were satisfied with the outcome, dropping to 23% for people with disabilities.

Most clients (91%) say that having access to a firm’s complaints records would be useful.  The SRA is already looking at how best to meet this expectation, with reports suggesting that the regulator is considering imposing a mandatory requirement on firms to publish complaints data.

This report shows some firms are doing positive things to tackle problems, but there is still some way to go”, says Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive.  He says that firms need to go further to meet clients’ expectations.  “This is not about template responses but understanding your client and responding to their individual needs and expectations,” he warned.

The Chief Legal Ombudsman, Simon Tunnicliffe, wants firms to do more to inform consumers about the Legal Ombudsman at the end of the complaints process.  “We are keen to work more with the profession to provide them with insights into how they can improve their complaints procedures,” he said.

Complaints about services can quickly turn into far more serious allegations of professional negligence if they are not dealt with quickly and efficiently,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “Less obviously, there is a missed opportunity inherent in poor complaints handling. The Institute of Customer Service describes a complaint as a gift where a customer gives up their time to help you improve your organisation. Whilst that particular formulation of the idea tends to put claims handler’s teeth on edge, there is a genuinely good point at the heart of it.”

Details of the research appear on the SRA’s website.  Reports on the findings have been published by the Law Society Gazette, Legal Futures and The Times.

Brunel Professions is a leading provider of PII insurance broking to the legal profession. To find out more call Jonathan Filer on +44 (0)117 325 0752.