Having secured Lexcel accreditation over eight years ago, my firm is once again preparing for its regular annual review. In my role as Lexcel supervisor I have to present a series of reports, including one on complaints-handling during the last 12 months.
Few firms can safely say that they have not had their share of dissatisfied clients, and solicitors frequently have themselves to blame when they end up with that unwelcome message from the Legal Ombudsman. I have noticed, however, a disturbing trend in recent years – particularly in respect of litigious matters – for clients to raise issues about service and conduct only after they have received their final bill.
The temptation for the solicitor to perceive this as a tactic by the client to avoid payment is perhaps understandable. If similar delay were to be encountered during litigation, the offending party might be faced with the argument, if not defence, of ‘laches’.
The trend which I have identified is more often than not the prime motivation for a mischievous complaint. How often have we had to bite our lip, having provided a ‘Rolls-Royce’ service, to face what is in effect an ex post facto challenge to historical billing simply designed to engineer a reduction – and then, weighing the commercial consequences, simply given way?
Does the Legal Ombudsman recognise this as an issue? Is there not a case for imposing a time limit for complaints? Further, should we not also introduce complainant fees and follow the example of employment law which, having long resisted the introduction of tribunal fees, now finds its caseload greatly slimmed down and, in consequence, divested of unmeritorious claims?
Perhaps the balance might be maintained by then refunding the fee to successful complainants. That would at least provide a level playing field for the parties.
David Kirwan, Kirwans Solicitors, Merseyside