Better complaints handling, better service standards

We recently published research into the complaints made about legal services from solicitors. Standards of service is a priority risk in our Risk Outlook and complaints can be a useful indicator of service quality.

Before we look at the findings, it’s important to point out that 80 percent of those who use legal services are satisfied with the service they receive. But we know that complaints handling is not working well for all dissatisfied people. The research was jointly commissioned by us and the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), as we both wanted to understand more about people’s experiences of making complaints and how firms could potentially improve service standards. We heard from 539 law firms and 2,016 people that had used a solicitor and were dissatisfied with the service.

What we learnt

Providing a good service

People want clear information about progress, costs and the legal process. Not all solicitors thought people placed such importance on these factors.

Nearly all firms meet our requirements to provide information about their complaints procedure at the start of the process, usually in the client care letter. But more than a third of people said they were not told about the complaints procedure. And people with disabilities were less likely to understand the procedure or knew how to complain.

Handling and resolving complaints

People do not always have the confidence and information to make a complaint and some are concerned that their solicitor might not handle the complaint fairly or take notice.

Sometimes, people express their dissatisfaction without making a formal complaint. The way that firms respond to these expressions can influence the satisfaction with the firm’s service and whether the person makes a formal complaint. Some firms find it hard to understand when an expression of dissatisfaction needs actioning. Most people say they want firms to take action when they express their dissatisfaction, whether in a formal complaint or not.

People most frequently want an explanation, an apology or work progressed to resolve their complaint. Disabled people are less likely to be satisfied that their complaint is resolved, compared with people with no disability.

Only a third of firms provide information about LeO at the end of the complaint process and half of firms did not signpost people to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services.

Learning from complaints

Most firms recognise the business benefits of complaints handling. The most frequently reported benefits are improving service delivery and client retention, and understanding people’s expectations.

Some firms collect other forms of feedback to achieve similar benefits.

We are currently consulting on our proposal to publish complaints data, along with other information. Most people say that having access to firms’ complaints data would be helpful. And more than a third of firms also believe publishing complaints data will show they deliver a good service. Some people and firms think that the complaints data also needs some context to be helpful, such as the firm’s size and the type of work they do. You can have your say in our consultation before 20 December.

What will we do with this research?

The research found examples of good practice and areas for improvement, particularly around firms meeting their regulatory and legal requirements and around supporting people with disabilities.

The report recommends actions for firms and for us and/or LeO. We will work with LeO to support firms to improve their service standards and the experience of people that are dissatisfied.

The recommendations for firms include:

  • managing people’s expectations by providing clear information about the legal work, costs and timescales, including explaining why work may not be going as planned
  • providing clear and timely information about the complaints procedure, LeO and ADR services, that is tailored to people’s needs— a previous blog highlighted that client care letters could be simpler and that standard information, such as complaints procedures, could be in a separate leaflet and that reminders are sent when appropriate
  • asking people how they want their expressions of dissatisfaction resolved
  • collecting feedback in different ways.


You can read the full research report and all the recommendations here. And find out more about what we will do with the findings here.

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