Tips for handling legal complaints effectively

No matter how skilled your people are, or how committed your firm is to providing client excellence, from time to time, complaints will happen.

As firms adapt to the post-Covid world, client dissatisfaction is likely to rise. Many staff are not returning to the office full-time, and firms must adjust to a new way of doing business. As with any period of flux, sometimes balls get dropped. At the same time, while clients might have accepted slower service at the start of the pandemic, two years on, empathy has waned. By now, law firms across the UK are expected to have adapted.

But client complaints don’t have to be a minefield. Effectively responding to grievances can diffuse the situation, protect your firm’s reputation, and minimise the likelihood of future complaints.

Make it easy for clients to complain

No business wants complaints, but nothing builds frustration more than not being able to vent. So, from the very beginning of the complainant’s journey, make it easy for them.

Let clients contact you using the communication methods that suit them. You might not want dissatisfaction about your firm to be aired publicly on social media, but you can start a conversation online and swiftly move it to a more private channel. Let’s face it; if you decide not to engage on a particular platform, an unhappy client will still use it to talk about you. It’s better to be part of that conversation.

You must also get clients through to the right people. Few things heighten negative emotions more than dealing with someone who does not have the knowledge or ability to help.

Use complaints to improve

Now and again, you will get a complaint that isn’t justified. But repeat criticisms often highlight issues or areas that require attention. The best law firms use expressions of dissatisfaction to look inward and identify any necessary improvements.

For example, if clients regularly complain that they are not getting regular updates, look at how you can communicate better. Similarly, if one solicitor gets more complaints than others, talk to them to establish why. Do they need specific training, or are they overworked? Rather than immediately dishing out blame, look at what your firm can do to improve the situation.

Once you have identified the root cause of a complaint, and done something to address it, let your clients know. Telling people that you appreciate their feedback – even if negative – makes them feel valued and can turn them into advocates.

Of course, your firm must have effective processes and tools in place to record and analyse the complaints received before you can do any of this.

Have robust processes in place

The SRA requires that firms deal with complaints “promptly, fairly, and free of charge”. Firms must also make every effort to resolve complaints satisfactorily, and they must have a written complaints procedure and effective internal processes for dealing with grievances. Furthermore, firms must tell clients about these. Firms must also inform clients about their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman if a problem is not resolved to their satisfaction.

Having all this in place is essential for compliance purposes, but it also makes dealing with complaints easier. If you inform clients how their feedback will be dealt with, by whom, and in what timeframe, they will feel more in control. And that can stop frustration from building up.

If your firm is still dealing with Covid-related issues around staff availability, explain why. You should also set timescales to regularly review your policies so that clients don’t think you are using Covid to excuse below standard service for longer than necessary.

Train your people

There is no point having robust complaint processes if the people in your firm don’t know how to use them.

Train your staff so that everyone knows how to spot a genuine grievance, when they should trigger the complaints procedure, when to escalate a criticism, what they should tell clients, what procedures to follow, and what documents to supply (and when).

Without training, the wrong response could see a simple groan intensify into a long-drawn-out battle.

Outsource your complaint handling

It can be challenging for busy law firms to find the time needed to handle complaints effectively. It’s also tricky not to go on the defensive when you feel that you are being attacked. As such, outsourcing your complaint handling can be a great option if you want to ensure an independent review of client complaints while remaining 100% compliant.

Legal Eye’s complaint handling service provides an entirely flexible, independent, and methodical approach to complaint resolution. We also offer a complaint handling tool kit with documentation to help you manage complaints effectively, and face-to-face training for your team. Contact [email protected] for further details.

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