Maintaining standards of service and reducing complaints

01 July 2019







Read our report: First tier complaints

Executive summary

The standard of legal services and the actions of solicitors and firms has an impact on public confidence in the rule of law and the overall effectiveness of the operation of the legal system.

The solicitors and firms we regulate have a duty to maintain high standards of behaviour and competence. We continue to receive reports about poor standards and firms continue to receive complaints about their service, some of which are investigated by the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). Therefore ‘Standards of service’ remains one of our priority risks in our Risk Outlook.

This report takes a close look at that risk. It draws on a range of our research and that of third parties to:

  • highlight the benefits of high standards of service
  • examine how firms can maintain service standards and so limit the complaints they receive
  • identify the risks involved if clients are not given the appropriate standard of service.

It also outlines how we support firms and the action we take where firms fail to uphold the standards expected of them.

We looked at areas such as:

  • the importance of communicating with clients so they know what they can expect and how much it is likely to cost
  • making sure solicitors are capable of carrying out the work they are assigned to do
  • dealing properly with any complaints that arise.

Key findings

  • The majority of clients are satisfied with the service they receive and believe it represents value for money.
  • Solicitors need to be more aware of their clients’ expectations – while 48% of the public said they highly value being given a clear explanation of a legal process by their solicitor, only 23% of the profession thought this would be highly valued.
  • There has been an increase in complaints to firms.
  • There has also been a significant increase in firms resolving those complaints, up from 72% in 2012 to 81% in 2018.
  • Most complaints are about delay, advice and costs.
  • There are fewer ‘silent sufferers’ – those that are unhappy with the service received but did not make a complaint – down from 49% in 2017 to 35% in 2018.
  • Over half of firms (55%) say it is important to train staff to respond to dissatisfied clients before they make complaints.
  • 40% of solicitors have increased their learning and development activities in the last two years. And 39% felt that our changes to continuing competence had improved the competence of solicitors.
  • Nearly four out of five of people we surveyed said they would feel more confident in using services from a firm that displayed the new SRA clickable logo on its website.

It is important that people can have confidence and trust in the services they receive from solicitors and law firms, and have protections if things go wrong.

People look for solicitors that are efficient and give clear information. And people trust solicitors to look after their best interests and will often choose a solicitor that has been recommended to them.

Providing a good service makes business sense, as building and maintaining a good reputation is important for success.1 Understanding the needs of each client means that the right service can be given to each person and clients are more likely to be satisfied with the service.

The main business benefits of high standards are:

  • retaining clients
  • increased recommendations
  • fewer complaints.

What we are doing

Shining a light on key risks is part of our work to make sure that proper standards are maintained – this report contributes to that.

We are publishing an annual summary of our data on first tier complaints - complaints that go to law firms. Firms have to report their data on these to us. Publishing an analysis of what is happening will help the profession to understand what are the most common causes of complaints, so they can take action to address any areas of weakness in their firms.

Where firms fall short of the standards the public should expect of them, we can and do continue to take action against them.

Delivering high standard services which are accessible to as many people as possible is one of the driving objectives behind our current reform programme.

Our Transparency Rules, introduced in 2018, require firms to publish price and service information across certain common legal services. They also require all firms to publish information on their website about their complaints procedures. We have checked, and will continue to check, firms’ compliance with these rules.

Our new Standards and Regulations introduce two Codes of Conduct, for solicitors and firms, in November 2019. The Codes have a greater focus on professional and ethical standards, rather than on compliance with prescriptive rules. This will also help people understand the standards they can expect from solicitors.

November 2019 also sees the online display of the ‘SRA regulated’ clickable logo becoming a mandatory requirement for those we regulate. Around a quarter of firms already use it on a voluntary basis. This study shows that people place more confidence in a firm that uses the logo, which will help them to see what protections are in place.

Open all
  1. Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman, 2017
  2. Legal Services Act 2007, section 1
  3. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018. And our conveyancing research found that cost (87%) and being a conveyancing specialist (81%) were the most important factors that influenced which solicitor people chose.
  4. Prices of Individual Consumer Legal Services, OMB Research for the Legal Services Board, 2016. The research found that 16% of solicitor firms advertised price online, but 4% did not have a website. Therefore around 12% with a website were advertising price online.
  5. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  6. Bellwether 2016 and Bellwether Race to Evolve, and Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA and LeO, 2017
  7. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  8. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  9. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  10. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  11. Patients' experiences of the First-tier Tribunal (Mental Health), Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and the Care Quality Commission, 2011; Modernising the Mental Health Act – final report from the independent review, Gov.uk, 2018
  12. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  13. LeO News 15: Leo links, Legal Ombudsman, 2016
  14. Annual report 2017/18, Legal Ombudsman, 2018
  15. Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA and LeO, 2017
  16. Topic guide: Competence and Standard of Service, SRA, 7 February 2019
  17. Lammy review: final report, An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system, 2017
  18. Understanding consumer experiences of conveyancing legal services, IFF for the SRA, 2018;Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA. 2017;Research into Client Care Letters, Optimisa Research for the legal regulators and the Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2016;The Language of Complaints, IFF Research for the Legal Ombudsman, 2017
  19. Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA. 2017
  20. Research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors' first tier complaints handling processes, London Economics and YouGov for the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman, 2017
  21. Online survey of individuals’ handling of legal issues in England and Wales 2015, Ipsos MORI for Legal Services Board and The Law Society, 2016
  22. Lessons for law firms: the client experience, Lawnet, 2015
  23. Balancing Customer Service and Satisfaction, Mark Kovac, Josh Chernoff, Jeff Denneen, and Pratap Mukharji, Harvard Business Review, March 2009
  24. 82% of people reported that reputation is an important or very important factor when choosing a solicitor. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  25. In 2018 32% of people used a solicitor that they or a family member used before; and 14% had been recommended by a friend or family member. Tracker survey 2018, Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2018
  26. The Leasehold Problem, Today’s Conveyancer, 2017.
  27. Firms brace for negligence flood over ground rent advice, The Law Society Gazette, 2017
  28. Tackling unfair practices in leasehold market, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2017
  29. Housing white paper, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2017; Tackling unfair practices in leasehold market, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2017
  30. Legal services market study, Competition and Markets Authority, 2016