By Cate McCurry, PA
Almost 1,600 complaints were made against solicitors and barristers in Ireland last year, a rise of 12 per cent compared to the previous year.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) revealed that its complaints, resolutions and investigations department received a total of 3,356 phone calls and e-mails in the year requesting information and complaint forms.
The LSRA is the independent statutory body responsible for the regulation of legal services provision.
Its annual report shows that a total of 1,599 complaints were received about lawyers during 2021.
Of these, 1,560 related to solicitors while 39 related to barristers, though multiple complaints may be made about an individual legal practitioner.
A total of 1,343 complaints were closed during 2021.
Of these, 398 were resolved and 172 were withdrawn. Just under half – 615 complaints – were closed because they were deemed as inadmissible following a statutory assessment.
The largest category of complaints, at 1,090, related to alleged misconduct.
Of the 1,090 complaints of alleged misconduct, 352 involved a failure to comply with an undertaking given to a colleague or financial institution and 297 related to conduct likely to bring the profession into disrepute.
A further 108 related to a failure to handover a file or other deeds and documents, 91 related to a failure to communicate, 71 involved alleged fraud or dishonesty and 62 related to an alleged failure to account for client’s money.
A total of 431 were from clients relating to alleged inadequate standards of legal services, and a further 78 were from clients who alleged they had been charged excessive costs.
Although the number of complaints received continues to rise, the breakdown in the types of complaint received shows a consistent trend.
Complaints relating to alleged misconduct continue to increase, a rise of 33 per cent on the previous year, those relating to alleged inadequate standards of legal services and excessive costs continue to fall, down by 13 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.
The annual report provides a breakdown of complaints received during the year based on the office locations of the legal practitioners against whom complaints were brought.
Out of the total of 1,599 complaints received during 2021, 592 were made against legal practitioners based in Dublin city and county, while 205 were in Cork city and county, 83 were in Kildare and 82 were in Limerick.
The LSRA maintains the roll of practising barristers, a searchable online register of all barristers entitled to provide legal services in the State which was established on December 28th, 2018.
The roll of practising barristers is an important tool which allows members of the public to be assured that the barrister providing legal services on their behalf is lawfully entitled to do so.
A total of 2,933 barristers were on the roll on December 31st, 2021.
This is an increase of 110 on the previous year. Of these, 2,180 were members of the Law Library and 753 were practising outside of the Law Library.
LSRA chief executive Dr Brian Doherty said: “The year under review was the LSRA’s second full year operating as the independent complaints handling body for complaints about solicitors and barristers.
“As this report shows, our complaints staff dealt with an increased number of both queries and complaints during this time.
“Complaints are closed for several reasons; when they have been successfully resolved between the parties with the assistance of the LSRA, determined by the LSRA, or by either of the two committees established under the Act.
“Complaints are also closed early in the complaints handling process if they are found to be inadmissible.
“Our complaints handing during the year is based on the sustained efforts of staff to improve efficiencies and refine processes while also maintaining the highest standards of services to consumers of legal services and legal practitioners.
“The fact that these outcomes were achieved within just two years of the LSRA becoming responsible for complaints handling, and against the challenging backdrop of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, is a testament to the resilience and dedication of the complaints team.”