Legal services consumers feel intimidated by jargon when they make complaints to law firms and for that reason are more likely to take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, research has found.

A survey published today of more than 1,000 people who had complained to the ombudsman found significant barriers between consumers and providers over language used in correspondence.

The research found examples of defensive responses from firms that could be interpreted as ‘confrontational and threatening’.

The language used was too difficult to understand or was felt to be intimidating, leaving consumers either angry or resolved to take the complaint elsewhere.

The research found that significant numbers of complainants had gone directly to the ombudsman. Of clients who had complained to the Legal Ombudsman before giving their lawyer the chance to resolve the complaint ­- what the ombudsman calls a ‘premature complaint’ ­- 63% said it was because they had no confidence they would be taken seriously or that their complaint would be resolved fairly.

But the survey found firms that dealt with complaints successfully were more likely to be recommended to others by the aggrieved person, in spite of the original dispute.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: ‘This hard-hitting report reveals why so many consumers don't complain about poor service by a lawyer - people are confused about what to do, get completely thrown by legal jargon, believe they won't get a fair hearing and fear that upsetting their lawyer could have repercussions for their case. Just as bad, a quarter of those who do complain rate their experience as one out of 10.’

It was also found that legal services consumers were unsure of the role of the ombudsman in the complaints process.

When they did go to the ombudsman, expectations could often not be met, as they expected that the ombudsman would ‘do something’ about their case.

Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson said: ‘Although there are some positives to take from this report ­some clear examples of good complaint handling for instance ­it’s clear that many lawyers could do more to ensure complaints are taken seriously.’

The ombudsman has published a guide for lawyers to handle complaints.