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Conduct complaints about crooked lawyers lack transparency, face delays says Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after ‘indy’ regulator awards “reasonable” rating to Law Society of Scotland

18 Feb

SLCCLawyers look after their own as ‘independent’ regulator rates Law Society. CONDUCT COMPLAINTS against Scottish Solicitors, like all complaints about poor legal services provided by Scotland’s legal profession, are, according to a report released by the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), ‘reasonably’ handled by the Law Society of Scotland, even though the entire complaints process lacks any transparency and clients are left facing lengthy delays of up to a year before the Law Society may eventually reach a conclusion.

The SLCC’s Review of the Law Society of Scotland’s timescales in relation to conduct complaints handling, carried out in November 2012 and only recently published states concludes that the SLCC Board could take ‘reasonable assurance’ in the Law Society’s overall complaints handling system but recognised that the processes, procedures and controls under review could benefit from a number of improvements.

Findings in the SLCC report stated : It was identified that there were no formally approved documented timescales or targets in place for investigating complaints under Law Society’s seven-stage complaint investigation process under the 2007 Act. In addition there were no formal timescales/targets in place to effectively measure the progress of a complaint through the Law Society‟s seven-stage conduct handling process.  However, we note that there are now some targets set out in the Complaints Investigator Manual (Conduct Complaints) which was approved by the Client Care Sub Committee in April 2012. These targets include timescales for dealing with correspondence,telephone calls and update letters.

A quarterly report of “Regulation-Conduct Complaints‟ is produced for the Board tracking progress against key indicators.  A copy of the report from November 2011 to end of January2012 indicated that the average number of days to process and conclude a complaint was 320 days. Our manual calculation identified a discrepancy (349 days) in the average number of days to process and conclude a complaint. We were informed that the average number of days is calculated automatically from Visual Files and is not manually verified prior to reporting to the Board.

The SLCC obtained a sample of 30 complaints covering the period of 01 October 2008 up to the planning phase of the Audit. The sample consisted wholly of closed cases which had reached the Closure stage. We identified those cases which exceeded the target of 320 days and split these into each individual stage of the seven stage complaint handling process.

Where complaints exceeded the average timescale, these were further investigated to identify at what stage(s) delays had occurred. From this we identified that the majority of delays/lengthy timescales in the process were within the Ingathering Evidence and Reporting Stages.

Further investigation of these stages identified the following factors created delays:

* delays responding to complainers‟ correspondence;

* cases being re-allocated to another Complaints Investigator during the process;

* re-organisation of the department;

* dealing with backlog of work; and

* non co-operation of the solicitors complained of leading to the issue of Section 48 Notices.

The SLCC found instances where parties were not kept informed when their case was being transferred from one Complaints Investigator to another, or where the Complaints Investigator was going to be absent for a period of time, e.g. annual leave. Lastly, we identified instances where there were large periods of inactivity in the complaint file, which could not be readily explained.

The SLCC recommended that the Law Society keeps the SLCC updated on the IT Visual File project and notifies the SLCC of any timescales which are set.

The SLCC also recommended that once timescales have been set, a process is developed to monitor timescales and targets to ensure these are met. These should be periodically reviewed to ensure that they accurately reflect the complaint handling process.

The SLCC also recommended the Law Society’s Regulation office should consider regularly publishing timescale targets on the website to ensure transparency.  It should consider publishing a summary of the numbers, business category of complaints received and the timescales in which they were resolved.

It should be noted many of the SLCC’s findings could just have easily been made every year over the past two decades as the Law Society of Scotland’s Complaints Department have consistently treated client complaints with year long delays, a lack of transparency and record levels of prejudice, proving that in 2013, little has changed with regard to regulation of Scotland’s legal profession with clients & consumers getting a raw deal from poorly regulated solicitors who look after their own.

While no Press Release has been issued by the Law Society of Scotland, the SLCC said on their website the Law Society has accepted the overall finding of ‘reasonable assurance’ and has provided a detailed response as to what actions have been undertaken since the audit was performed and other actions that are in the pipeline. The SLCC went onto claim the Society will be monitored by the SLCC in terms of its on-going oversight role and some will form the subject of future reviews/follow-up work.

If you have a conduct complaint against a Scottish solicitor and feel the Law Society or SLCC are mucking you about, or you wish to publicise the case, contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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