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Promoting best practice in client care
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Issue 4: September 2016

Intro from David Buchanan-Cook

Part of my role as Head of Oversight is to act as the main liaison point between the SLCC and our Consumer Panel, which was set up by the Scottish Government at the beginning of last year. 
 
This quarter’s CRM Newsletter coincides with the launch of the Consumer Panel’s first major publication - its 2016 Yearbook. The Yearbook is based mainly on analysis of the demographic information which the SLCC collates from individual complainers. 
 
Explaining the purpose of the document, the Panel’s Chair, Carol Brennan, said: 

"One of the Panel’s main concerns is that consumers of legal services across Scotland are aware of, and have access to, redress where services fall below standard. As such, we felt that it was important at an early stage to gauge how closely the demographics of those complaining to the SLCC matched those of the Scottish population, and to identify where there were any clear gaps. 

On the whole, we take comfort in many of the outcomes of this research. However, the results have highlighted some areas where further work is required - and this will inform the work of the Panel going forward. Using this document as a benchmark, we will also track these outcomes in the years to come.”
 
 
One area of concern which the Yearbook does touch on is the apparent lack of awareness of the SLCC, as can be seen in the final analysis which looks at the routes by which complainers find out about the Commission. The majority of complainers found out about the SLCC through an internet search, this closely followed by referral via the Law Society of Scotland. However, only 6% of those who made a complaint to us last year were made aware of us by their solicitor. I find this surprisingly low.
 
I know that many, if not most, firms include reference in their Terms of Engagement to the role of the SLCC. We do occasionally still see standard letters which refer to the Law Society of Scotland, or to the Legal Ombudsman, and I did see one recently where “SLCC" was unhelpfully explained as the “Society of Local Council Clerks” - so it may just be worth checking that your own firm’s Terms of Engagement letters have been correctly updated.
 
Of course, firms also have a duty to signpost dissatisfied clients to the SLCC in the event that their own attempt to resolve a complaint at first tier fails. In our complaint handling best practice guidance we emphasise the importance of incorporating this into your firm’s complaints process. 
 
However, the message does not appear to be getting through and begs the question “why not?”.
 
It could be argued that by the time an issue arises clients may have forgotten or misplaced the initial Terms of Engagement, if indeed they were ever read. However, this doesn’t explain why such a low number of those who complained to us last year, having been unsuccessful at resolving the issue with the firm direct, could not recall being signposted to us at that stage. 
 
As part of our Operational Plan this year we are looking at what we can do to increase clients' - and the wider public's - awareness of the role of the SLCC. We will be working with the Consumer Panel as part of this. However, I would greatly welcome any suggestions which Client Relations Managers, or other practitioners for that matter, may have as to how we might improve client awareness and/or make it an easier job for you as a CRM. Would it be helpful, for example, if the SLCC produced a simple fact sheet which could be handed to a client or enclosed with your Terms of Engagement? Please send any suggestions to - slcc.oversight@scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk .

Double trouble

In this quarter’s published decisions you will find that around a third of cases stem from residential conveyancing transactions. This is pretty much in line with our statistics generally - there are always far more complaints about this business area than any other.

Two of these complaints are particularly worth noting.

Complaint 16/30 is an unfortunate situation where it would appear that, in acting for the sellers of a property, the firm was unwittingly the vehicle of a fraud. The offence was perpetrated by one of their clients forging the signature of the other who was, in reality, unaware of the sale. The firm considered that it had instructions, and was acting, on behalf of both clients. However, it had failed to take proper steps to ensure that direct contact had been made with both individuals. That included inadequate money laundering checks and a failure to secure joint authority regarding the dispersal of the free proceeds from the sale....which, perhaps unsurprisingly in hindsight, were paid in full to the defrauding client.

In relation to such hazards, Paterson and Ritchie remind us that “It is important to ensure that instructions are obtained from all joint owners and that those instructions coincide.“ (7.15.09)

The other case to consider is 16/35. Again acting for a seller, the firm had been instructed to offer the purchasers some kitchen appliances and, for some reason, didn’t do so. What makes this noteworthy is the fact that, when the client expressed dissatisfaction, and made a complaint to the firm, the firm’s Client Relations Manager did...... nothing. As a result, the complainer included a further complaint about the firm’s failure to respond to the initial complaint, and this too was upheld.

This highlights the importance of dealing properly with complaints at first tier - or at the very least acknowledging and responding to them. This extends to complaints from third parties which should not be ignored - albeit you may be limited in your response due to your duty of confidentiality to your own client. However, not responding at all, or not keeping to the terms of your own complaints handling procedure, can lead to further heads of complaint which are, quite often, upheld - even where the initial issue and cause of dissatisfaction has not been.

So why double trouble?

Well, the lessons to learn are:

  • When acting for two clients, double care is required
  • Don’t let how you deal with a complaint land you with a double whammy
See all decisions here
As this we've now released three quarters of decisions, we're keen to get some feedback on how useful you find it.
How useful do you find the decisions?
(Where 1 is least useful and 10 is most useful).
lowest 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   highest
Sorry, voting is closed.
How much would you like us to publish other decisions e.g. at investigation or when we access the eligibility of complaints? 
(Where 1 is not at all and 10 is very much)
lowest 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   highest
Sorry, voting is closed.
Give us your feedback
Events:
  • 21st October 2016 -  Legal Services Agency, Glasgow – “Complaints Best Practice Workshop”
  • 24th October 2016 - Inverness Faculty - Dealing with Complaints (jointly with Law Society of Scotland)
  • 26th October 2016 - CLT Family Law Conference, Murrayfield - Family Law Complaints
  • 8th November 2016 - Scottish Young Lawyers Association - launch of new SLCC guidance for recently qualified solicitors (and for the CRMs who supervise them)
  • 25th November 2016 - Glasgow Bar Association - Training for Trainees
News in brief: Appeals:
Guides:
Preventing complaints
Complaint handling for solicitors
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