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Law guide

Complaints about a legal executive

Contents

Introduction

If you wish to make a complaint about a legal executive, you can send a complaint letter either directly to the legal executive, or to their employer. In this letter you may make a complaint about poor service, professional misconduct and/or negligence. All of these terms have specific definitions which are described below under the heading 'Complaints'. Read through these definitions to make sure that you are complaining on the appropriate grounds.

After sending this letter, should you fail to receive a satisfactory response, then you will need to escalate your complaint. See below under 'Next steps' for more information on this process.

Complaints

Poor service

Poor service (inadequate professional service) is a broad concept that is likely to cover complaints that arise where a legal executive has:

  • Not done what you instructed them to do
  • Caused unreasonable delays
  • Given you inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Failed to reply to your correspondence or phone calls
  • Failed to keep you updated on your case
  • Managed your case unprofessionally
  • Failed to give you enough information about their charges before they start your case or give you a final bill
  • Presented you with an excessive bill dated on or after 11 August 2009 in respect of non-contentious work where the legal executive is working for a firm of solicitors.

If your complaint is about your legal executive's bill, your legal executive should treat this as any other complaint about their professional service. You might want to request your legal executive to provide you with a detailed breakdown of the bill, so that you may understand how the costs were incurred. Note that in respect of bills delivered by a firm of solicitors for which the legal executive works, you may also have the option to have the bill assessed by the court. However, once you have applied for the bill to be assessed by the court, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) may no longer deal with a complaint about that bill.

In England and Wales, if you are unhappy about your legal executive's response to your complaint of inadequate professional service, you may escalate your complaint by referring it to the Legal Ombudsman.

Please note that the above is not an exhaustive list and is for illustration only. If you have any questions in relation to poor service then you may also contact the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) (see below).

Negligence

Negligence is when your legal executive acted for you in such a way that caused you financial or other loss, which would not have been suffered had he/she taken the reasonable care that a legal executive should reasonably have done. If you are unhappy about your legal executive's response to your complaint of negligence, you have two options for escalating your complaint:

1. Seek compensation for the loss you suffered due to your legal executive's negligence by approaching the court. This you would do by suing your legal executive. However, in determining how much compensation to award, the court would only consider the financial loss you suffered as a result of the negligence of your legal executive. The court would not take into account the distress and inconvenience that you suffered.

2. In England and Wales, you can seek compensation by complaining to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). Any negligence of a legal executive should also amount to inadequate professional service. In assessing how much compensation to award, the LeO would consider two categories of loss. These are the financial loss and the distress and inconvenience you suffered as a result of the legal executive's negligence. The LeO may also take any aggravating circumstances into consideration when determining the level of compensation. Although there is no punitive award, the award would be higher if the negligence resulted in inadequate professional service persisting over an extended period.

The maximum amount (for both financial loss and distress and inconvenience) which the LeO may award is £30,000 (although most complaints involve much smaller amounts). However, it may also disallow all or part of the legal executive's bill (or require corrective action to be taken).

Professional misconduct

All legal executives must act in accordance with their professional code of conduct. If your legal executive acts contrary to this code, then they may have committed professional misconduct. For example, if your legal executive commits one of the following acts, then they will generally be guilty of professional misconduct:

  • Keeping money that belongs to you
  • Acting for a client whose interests clash with yours
  • Releasing confidential information about you (without permission)
  • Discriminating against you because of your race, religion, sex, sexuality, disability or age

For more information about the code of conduct and professional misconduct, see ILEX Professional Standards (IPS), the independant regulator of members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

The LeO will not deal with a complaint relating to a legal executive's professional misconduct, but will refer this to ILEX Professional Standards Limited (IPS). However the LeO will in some cases, while considering whether to refer your complaint of professional misconduct to IPS, also consider whether the legal executive gave you poor service.

Compensation

When setting out the nature of your complaint to your legal executive, you must also ensure that you indicate what the legal executive (or their firm) can do to resolve your complaint. In setting out how exactly you would like to resolve your complaint, please consider the following remedies (not an exhaustive list):

  • A total refund or reduction of your bill, or a reasonable amount of financial compensation
  • A written apology
  • The removal of your legal executive from the case
  • Corrective action be taken in relation to your matter

Please note that there are no limitations upon the type of remedy or the amount of compensation that you may request in an initial letter of complaint. However, should your complaint proceed to the LeO, then the type of remedy that you are entitled to will be restricted.

Next steps

Legal Ombudsman - LeO (England & Wales)

Please note that the LeO may only deal with complaints relating to legal service providers situated in England and Wales.

Before taking further action, you are advised to give your legal executive 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. If you do not hear from your legal executive (or the person nominated to manage your complaint), or you are not satisfied with his or her final response, then you may consider taking further action.

The action that you take will depend upon the nature of your complaint and you are therefore advised to call the LeO on 0300 555 0333 or email them at enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk for further guidance. Alternatively you can set out your complaint in a letter.

The LeO will either deal with your complaint themselves, or refer it to the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards Limited (IPS), or may advise you to obtain legal advice so that you can consider court action.

The LeO will not deal with your complaint unless you have first complained to your legal executive and have given them at least 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. Once the 8 weeks have passed, the LeO will deal with your complaint if your legal executive has not resolved your complaint to your satisfaction.

It is important to note that time limits will apply to your complaint. Where your complaint, or elements of it, relate to poor service or negligence, you must contact the LeO within six months of your last contact with your legal executive. However, overall, you should complain to the LeO within 12 months of becoming aware of the issues that have given rise to your complaint. If your complaint, or elements of it, relate to professional conduct, you must contact the LeO within six months of the conduct having taken place as they will refer this to IPS.

If you are concerned about such time limits, then contact the Legal Ombudsman.

Once the LeO has made its decision it has the power to:

  • Request the legal executive to apologize to you
  • Ask the legal executive to return your documents to you
  • Instruct the legal executive to rectify his work by doing more work (if doing so would resolve the complaint)
  • Require the legal executive to reduce his legal fees
  • Require the legal executive to pay you compensation for any financial loss or bad treatment, up to a maximum of £30,000

Visit the Legal Ombudsman for more information, including contact details.

Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)

For more information about complaints relating to legal executives, contact the CILEx