Effective Complaints Handling


In 2015/2016, the Legal Ombudsman reported 7,035 complaints made and 6,399 complaints resolved. Complaints to the Legal Ombudsman do show a steady decline in numbers but in the last full year there were still 1,394 complaints about residential conveyancing matters, 867 complaints about family cases, 824 regarding Wills & Probate matters and 1,865 relating to “other” matters.

The most common causes of complaints change little year on year and are:

  • • Failure to advise (18%),
  • • Costs and delays (17%);
  • • Communication issues, which have increased significantly from 11% to 16%.

There are many more complaints which are resolved internally through firms’ internal complaints procedures and which don’t reach the Legal Ombudsman.

Complaints-handling is an important part of a firm’s risk management procedures and impacts on many aspects of a firm from levels of professional indemnity insurance and acceptance onto lender panels to reputation but is sadly often viewed by firms in a similar light to file reviews – time-consuming, laborious, fruitless and negative.

The position of Client Care Partner or Complaints Handling Partner is often delegated to the most senior person in the firm, who happens to be away at the time his / her predecessor steps down and so the individual is elected into the job by default! Not a good start!

Done well, complaints handling – and by this I don’t just mean the actual handling of an individual complaint but consideration of the reasons for the complaint, any trends emerging and remedial action required to prevent a recurrence – is positive for staff, for departments and for firms and demonstrates to clients that the firm are responsive to the needs of clients, forward-thinking, proactive and client-focused.

There are many benefits to good complaints handling procedures. Identifying trends and putting in place remedial steps can lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness of staff members which will, in turn, increase client satisfaction and service levels, which results in a happier, less-stressed workforce and working environment which ultimately will lead to increased numbers of clients and improved profitability.


Put that way, why do firms struggle with their complaints handling?

There are many reasons including:

  • • Investigating individual complaints is time-consuming and non-chargeable and time is money.
  • • The timeframe for doing so is tight – 8 weeks from start to finish.
  • • The work to be done is often considerable – trawling through a voluminous file or files to determine who said what to whom and when – or not!
  • • The Complaints Partner often has “many hats” with complaints being just one in a long list -all of which are equally important.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Report released at the end of 2016, after a year-long study, concluded that not enough information is available on price and quality of service to help those (mostly individual consumers and small businesses) who need legal support to choose the best option. To this end, Legal Ombudsman’s decisions are already published on their website with the name of the service provider, number of decisions and any remedy required – such information remaining on the LeO’s website for a 12-month period.

As competition in the legal market increases, firms must focus on getting things right first time and eliminating as far as possible the causes of complaints through the implementation of a robust complaints procedure.

Now, more than ever before, it is important that firms take steps to ensure that their Complaints Handling processes and procedures are not just adequate but are the best that they can be and that those responsible for dealing with complaints are proactive in doing so.

If you are responsible for complaints handling and are struggling to cope or if you are dealing with the same types of complaints regularly, talk to us about outsourcing your complaints handling process. For an informal discussion email [email protected]


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