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Issue 2: March 2016

Smaller change/ BIG impact

Welcome to our second newsletter. For the last three months we've been talking about our future strategy consultation, which has just closed, and which looks four years ahead. It talks about big changes potentially in the sector as a whole. 

Some of our stakeholders quite rightly reminded us not to forget smaller changes - ones which may be more in our control, and could lead to more immediate improvements for consumers and lawyers.  For any organisation that's good advice, and we have just such a change to announce.

Time limits
In 2014, the SLCC consulted on a number of proposed changes to our Rules, including a change in the time limits for making a complaint from one year to three years. We also proposed to introduce a shorter time limit of six months from the date on which the first tier investigation (by the law firm or advocate) concludes.

We did this following discussion with stakeholders including the professional bodies and consumer groups.  In particular, we felt that our time limits were unusually short for a consumer complaints body and there were a number of scenarios where complainers, through no fault of their own, could find themselves outside the current limit.  However, we also wanted those firms and lawyers who are engaging with complaints at first tier to have some certainty about when a complaint made to the SLCC might be accepted.

The response was generally positive but we needed to delay to check if there would be any impact from changes at an EU level. Following a short follow-up consultation with professional bodies which finished this month, I will now be asking our Board to approve the changes next month.  We expect that the changes will take effect on 1 July 2016 and will apply to all work instructed (or conduct or convictions) on or after that date.

Once we give the final confirmation, Client Relations Managers can prepare by making sure that internal complaints procedures are up to date and making sure staff are aware of these changes.  This includes amended signposting to the SLCC at the conclusion of the first tier investigation. It might also be an opportunity to update any training on complaints that’s provided.  We'll provide further guidance, and some wording which firms may wish to adopt, once the changes have been confirmed.

Learning from complaints

With this, our second, CRM newsletter we have published summaries of the SLCC’s Determinations from the months of October to December 2015 – you can see all the decisions of our Determination Committees for these months here.

Following the publication of last quarter’s decisions we received a lot of feedback on how useful you found this information – which is good to know. Some of you asked if we could provide a bit more information on individual complaints. This is quite difficult as we have to balance the amount of informative detail with the restrictions of confidentiality which our Act imposes. However, this quarter we have included a little more detail on the complaints and, again, we would welcome your feedback on whether this is helpful.

17 complaints were upheld or partly-upheld by Determination Committees during the quarter.

In common with the previous quarter’s decisions, many of these relate to delays in progressing matters and failures to respond to clients.

While complaints about errors are relatively rare, in two cases (15/14 and 15/16) the Determination Committees agreed that errors had been made in the drafting of documents.

It was Alexander Pope who said “To err is human…..”

In situations where solicitors are extremely busy, and generally working to tight deadlines, it can be all too easy to send out the wrong letter, omit a crucial piece of information or forget to amend/delete standard paragraphs in templates to address the specific needs of the client. It’s all the more easily done through the immediacy of email.

Although the simple proof-reading of important documents is a good discipline to adopt, it is by no means fool proof. Where errors are made, the key is to make good the situation as quickly as possible.  
In both the complaints referred to, because the firms concerned had taken corrective action immediately and, by so doing, avoided any detriment to the client, the Committees considered that the issues should not be upheld as inadequate service.

To complete Pope’s quotation…..”to forgive is divine.”

Useful to note…
Case 15/25 is worth noting as an example of the dangers of inadequate supervision. In this complaint, the firm had maintained that the paralegal had embarked upon a frolic of her own and argued that, as such, they could not be held accountable for the resultant inadequacy of service.

The Law Society’s service standard on Competency is quite clear on this. It includes the obligation on solicitors to ensure that those to whom work is delegated, whether solicitors or paralegals or other members of staff, are properly trained and – more importantly for this scenario – that there are systems in place to ensure the delegated work is adequately supervised.
See all decisions here
One of the focuses in our recent strategy consultation was on improvement through learning.  We already do this in a number of ways, one of them is taking account on what is said in the Inner House of the Court of Session when it considers appeals against our decisions.  Later this year, we hope to have a dedicated section of our website for these.  But for now, they can be found in the news section of our website:
Events we're speaking at:
  • 10 May 2016: Legal Services Agency Client Complaints Essentials workshop - Fleming House, Glasgow
  • 02 June 2016: Compensate Personal Injury Network Annual Conference - Edinburgh
News in brief:
SLCC hosts sanctions roundtable
SLCC welcomes CMA review of legal services in England and Wales
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