Watchdog directs solicitors to compensate clients who received inadequate service

A number of solicitors have been directed to refund excessive fees or to compensate clients for inadequate service following the intervention of the legal services watchdog.

In one case, a personal injury solicitor decided to return €2,000 in legal costs to a client before the watchdog had decided on her complaint.

Details of the payments were disclosed in a report by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA), which revealed a significant upsurge in complaints against lawyers.

According to the report, the authority received 822 complaints between last September and last month.

The volume of complaints was up a fifth compared with the previous six months.

There were 799 complaints about solicitors and 23 about barristers.

Many complaints ended up being either resolved or ruled out as inadmissible early in the complaints process.

Of 342 complaints closed at a pre-admissibility stage, 225 were resolved by the parties with the help of the LSRA before a decision was made.

A total of 376 complaints were deemed to be inadmissible following preliminary review.

However, several examples were listed of cases where the LSRA ended up making directions.

In one case, where the watchdog determined legal costs charged were excessive, the practitioner was directed to waive fees of €2,000.

In another complaint, relating to inadequate provision of legal services, the practitioner was directed to transfer the file to another solicitor and to pay compensation of €2,000.

Following another inadequate service complaint, a practitioner was directed to complete the matter as had been agreed, but waive all fees and pay €2,500 in compensation to the client.

A further case saw a solicitor being directed to pay a client €500 compensation and a refund of €2,000 after fees were found to be excessive.

One complaint related to a woman who settled a personal injury action for an agreed sum as well as a contribution toward her legal costs.

However, there was a shortfall of €2,000 in the costs recovered from the defendant and the client ended up getting billed for it.

She complained to the LSRA that the solicitor should have sought her consent before accepting a contribution toward her costs, which left her liable to pay the remainder.

The solicitor ultimately offered to refund the complainant the €2,000 in costs charged before the LSRA had made a determination on the complaint.

“A client’s fully informed consent should be obtained before settling the defendant’s contribution toward costs if you are seeking any shortfall from the client,” the LSRA warned solicitors in the report.

It said communications failures were a significant feature of most complaints.

In one case, a solicitor was directed to pay a client €1,000 in compensation after failing to give notice of costs involved in buying a property.

Where complaints about communication were made, they often related to lengthy delays in responding to queries or instructions.

“A client of a legal practitioner should not be put in the position of complaining to the LSRA just to find out what is happening in legal proceedings in which they are involved,” the report said.

The watchdog also said it was encountering an increasing number of complaints about outstanding undertakings.

An undertaking is a legally binding promise to do or not do something.

Solicitors routinely give undertakings to financial institutions that they will be responsible for doing certain things connected with their clients’ purchase of a property.

This could be stamping and registering the transaction in order to give the necessary security for the mortgage.

A total of 209 complaints were received in relation to outstanding undertakings compared with 134 in the previous six-months.

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