The Law Society of Ireland is the statutory regulator with regard to complaints against solicitors. Complainants include clients, other solicitors, financial institutions, and the Registrar of Solicitors. Complaints fall into three main categories – misconduct, excessive fees, and inadequate professional services. The number and nature of complaints serve as a useful indicator of the quality of service provided by solicitors to their clients, and any areas of concern.
A review of complaints figures for 2017 has shown historic lows across a range of variables:
• Complaints were made regarding just 0.09% of transactions carried out by solicitors,
• The propensity of clients to make a complaint against their solicitor reduced to one-third of what it was 20 years ago,
• Numbers of admissible complaints are two-thirds lower than the peak of 2011, and
• 94% of all solicitors had no complaints made against them in 2017.
These figures demonstrate the high quality and ongoing improvement in legal services and client care provided by solicitors, and the general high level of client satisfaction.
Breakdown of complaints
A total of 31,182 admissible complaints have been made in the last 20 years, more than half of which have been made in the last ten years. While this looks significant, the number of solicitors in the profession and the volume of
transactions carried out by solicitors should be kept in mind.
If it is estimated that each practising solicitor carries out an average of 100 instructions (each relating to an individual case or transaction) per year, and each complaint refers to issues with one transaction, complaints are
only made with regard to 0.2% of all transactions over the last 20 years, and 0.09% of all transactions
As a general rule, complaints are per transaction rather than per solicitor. Admissible complaints are at their lowest level in ten years, at 986 complaints for 2017. This is 63% lower than the peak of complaints in 2011 (2,667) and
34% lower than the average number of admissible complaints over the last 20 years (1,485).
When numbers of practising solicitors are taken into account, the propensity of complainants to make a complaint against a solicitor is half of what it was ten years ago (9% in 2017 as against 18% in 2007) and two-fifths of what it was in 1998 (22.4%).
Complaints that a solicitor has failed to comply with undertakings constitute a disproportionate amount of admissible complaints (26% in 2017). Such complaints are predominantly made by financial institutions rather than
clients of solicitors. When such complaints are removed from the figures, the propensity of clients to make a complaint against their solicitor drops to 7% in 2017 – one-third as likely as clients were to make a complaint against their solicitor in 1998.
The majority of complaints made against solicitors relate to failure to comply with undertakings, from a high of 71%
of all admissible complaints in 2011/12 to 35% in 2016/17. Just over half of all complaints made in the last ten years have been complaints regarding undertakings. There has been a substantial fall in undertakings complaints in 2016/17, with the number of such complaints more than halved from 2015/16 to 2016/17.
Excessive-fees complaints constitute only 7% of all complaints made in the past decade and 8% of complaints made in 2016/17. This contrasts with the popular (but erroneous) belief that excessive fees are a major source of complaint. The number of excessive-fee complaints in 2016/17 is nearly half of those made ten years ago. The majority of excessive-fees complaints in the last ten years have related to fees arising on litigation work (33%), followed closely by matrimonial work (25%).
Inadequate professional services complaints constitute 19% of all complaints over the last ten years and 31% of complaints in 2016/17. Reasons for inadequate professional services complaints include delay, failure to communicate, and poor-quality work.
Reasons for reductions
The low levels of complaints can be attributed to a number of factors, including:-
• Increasing effectiveness and robustness of the Law Society’s regulatory system,
• Improved education of students and practitioners regarding client care,
• Increased focus through professional indemnity insurance on firm risk-management procedures,
• Decline in economic activity since the boom, particularly in relation to property transactions, and
• Competitive pressures, with clients more likely to change allegiances if they get poor quality service.
Reductions in complaints against solicitors is welcome news to the whole profession, and will, hopefully, help to foster a better image of solicitors amongst the general public.