Many in the profession think it is too easy for clients to complain. Clients are now referred to as ‘consumers’, and as consumers their expectations about service are high. But we are being paid less and less for the work we do.

Complaints are time-consuming and costly. They are stressful and can demotivate. Often clients are ungrateful and it can seem like the more work is done, the less the client is satisfied.

Some files seem doomed from start. Some clients are unreasonable, have time on their hands and a sense of injustice against the world. When things go wrong it is usually a combination of errors. When you analyse a serious complaint, (with hindsight) you can nearly always spot the warning signs and the stages when things could have been done differently.  

Authors: Vicky Ling and Fiona Westwood

Publisher: Law Society Publishing, paperback and CD-ROM (£59.95)

This is a good book because it focuses on quality, not just what to do when things go wrong. This is about getting the basics right and building a positive relationship with clients. We should look at the complaint from the client’s point of view. The silent, unhappy client is the worst kind because they do not complain, are left with a sense of grievance they share with others and you cannot learn from the problem.

The case studies are useful and the text is written clearly. The precedents are good and practical and are also on a CD-ROM so you can tailor them to your firm.  

What makes a happy client? The profession needs to talk about quality and positives. The case for continual staff training is well made – and means a sense of commitment to quality across the firm as well as dealing with things that go wrong. We all need to recognise the need to manage the client’s expectations and their budgets.

‘What is a complaint?’ is also considered – making sure complaints are spotted and acted on. The worst scenario is the email from the SRA about a complaint that has been ignored. You are then in double trouble: a complaint about the work and a complaint about your failure to deal with the complaint.

The book made me rethink our complaints procedure and in-house training. We can all benefit from reviewing our procedures.

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott