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The Legal Ombudsman can offer an informal mechanism for resolving complaints between clients and their legal service providers. In this independent guide, we explain what the Legal Ombudsman is, how it works and what the advantages and disadvantages of using it can be.

What is the Legal Ombudsman?

The Legal Ombudsman is a legal complaints handling service that was established by the Office for Legal Complaints, under powers conferred to it by the Legal Services Act 2007.

It is designed to resolve disputes over service in an efficient and informal way by seeking a consensus, wherever possible, between a complainant and the legal service provider.

The Legal Ombudsman is staffed by:

It is important to note that the Legal Ombudsman is not an advisory body and does not provide legal advice or representation to complainants.

Which professionals does the service cover?

The Legal Ombudsman is not restricted to considering complaints against solicitors alone. It can also consider complaints against barristers, licensed conveyancers, legal executives, notaries, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, cost lawyers, accountants (in connection with a reserved legal activity for which they are authorised) and claims management companies.

Can anyone make a complaint?

Not everyone can make a complaint. Under the Scheme Rules, a complainant must be either:

What types of complaints are covered?

Generally, the Legal Ombudsman handles complaints relating to poor or inadequate service. This can take a wide variety of forms and can, for example, include:

Although there can be some overlap, this type of conduct may also be distinguished from misconduct and professional negligence.

Misconduct is usually concerned with breaches of the codes of conduct by which a particular profession is regulated and which are liable to result in disciplinary action being taken by a regulatory body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Bar Standards Board.

Professional negligence, on the other hand, is usually concerned with mistakes made by legal professionals which result in a financial loss or liability and which, in turn, can give rise to a civil claim for financial compensation.

When can a complaint be made?

Before submitting a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, a complainant will usually be required to have (i) made a formal complaint to the legal service provider concerned; and (ii) allowed that provider a period of 8 weeks in which to resolve the complaint.

If a final response has been issued by the service provider, but is not acceptable, a complainant who wishes to take the complaint to the Legal Ombudsman must usually then do so within 6 months.

Further, and in any event, complaints must usually be submitted to the Legal Ombudsman within 6 years of the date upon which grounds for the complaint arose, or 3 years from the date upon which the complainant could reasonably be expected to have known of those grounds, whichever is later.

How does the complaints process work?

The complaints process is usually dealt with on paper and while it is possible for either party to request a hearing, these are rare.

A complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman by email, letter or telephone and/or by completing a complaints form. Assuming the complaint is one that the Legal Ombudsman can consider (see further above), an investigation is likely to be commenced, with written representations relating to the complaint being requested from the legal services provider.

A written provisional assessment should then be made, which both parties will have the opportunity to accept or reject. If the provisional assessment is not accepted by both parties, the complainant may then request that the complaint be placed before an ombudsman.

After considering the complaint and undertaking such further enquiries as are deemed necessary, an ombudsman will produce a final written determination. The complainant alone will then have the option of accepting or rejecting this determination. If the determination is accepted, it will become binding on both parties, so that neither party may commence or continue legal proceedings in relation to the complaint. If the determination is rejected (or not accepted within the time-frame stipulated) then the complainant will be free to pursue a civil claim for compensation where appropriate.

While a final determination should be complied with by the legal service provider voluntarily, if it is not then it can be enforced through either the County Court or the High Court.

What remedies can the Legal Ombudsman provide?

The Legal Ombudsman has the authority to direct a legal service provider to:

What are the advantages of using the Legal Ombudsman?

Some potential advantages of using the Legal Ombudsman are that:

What are the disadvantages of using the Legal Ombudsman?

Some potential disadvantages of using the Legal Ombudsman are that:

Should I retain a solicitor before making a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman?

This is a decision that should be made on a case by case basis. If a solicitor is retained, he/she may well be able to assist with:

However, these advantages should be balanced against the costs that are likely to be incurred in retaining a solicitor, which might exceed any compensation recovered and which themselves are unlikely to be recoverable from the legal service provider concerned, even if the complaint is upheld.

How might PNC Legal be able to assist?

If your legal service provider has made a mistake which has caused you to suffer financial loss, it may be more appropriate for you to pursue a claim for professional negligence, rather than make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.

We would be happy to discuss this with you, free of charge or commitment, as part of an initial consultation. If this would be helpful to you, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 195 4983 or by email at mail@pnclegal.com.

As you can discover here, at PNC Legal there is much more than just the fact that we specialise exclusively in resolving claims for professional negligence that sets us apart from most other solicitors.

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