From our experience of dealing with complaints, we can see that one of the biggest difficulties facing a solicitor is time management, thanks to competing priorities, short timescales and unexpected interruptions or emergencies.
The following information may help you to manage your case load more effectively and hopefully avoid complaints.
- Know when you are most productive and set aside time to tackle the important tasks during that period
- Don't over commit- allow yourself time to focus on the task. Quality is better than quantity. Even if that means saying no to new work at times.
- Build in time for interruptions and unexpected emergencies
- Develop the habit of using planners, calendars and electronic reminders for better time management.
A significant proportion of the complaints we see are about delay. By its very nature, legal work can be subject to delays which are beyond your control. However, communicating that delay is something that is within your control.
You may know that everything is going according to plan and understand the reason for any delays, but problems can arise if you don't communicate this to your client. To avoid this type of scenario from turning into a complaint, be sure to update your client if things are taking a little longer than expected. Or if the transaction is not going as planned, don't delay in delivering bad news.
The key is to communicate- don't keep quiet in the hope that things will naturally correct themselves and that you will somehow catch up.
Complaint: The firm failed to update the client regarding important aspects of their house purchase.
Outcome: There was evidence on the firm's file that the complainer had expressed concerns, a week prior to settlement, that missives had not been concluded. The Investigation Report noted that it was not unusual for missives to conclude on the day of settlement. The Investigator stated it was understandable that the firm thought, at that stage, that matters were not of sufficient concern to highlight this position to the complainer.
Although the complaint was not upheld, it was noted that had the firm explained this to the complainer at the time, it would have provided reassurance and could potentially have avoided a complaint.
Keeping file notes
We often see cases where transactions start well but then something changes and there is confusion about why things took a different direction.
When we start investigating a complaint we will normally ask for the case file. It is important, therefore, that you keep accurate, clear and legible file notes of meetings and telephone conversations. It is easy to forget to do this, or to put it off, particularly when you are busy. Should any questions or disputes arise over what happened and when it happened, your file is your fallback.
Although human memory can be amazing, it should never be relied on as the sole safeguard against a complaint - so record everything!
Complaint: The solicitor inappropriately accepted instructions in relation to the setting up of a Trust and failed to return 16 telephone calls over a 6 week period.
Outcome: During the investigation there was evidence on the file that the firm had a) fully file noted relevant conversations, b) employed the advice of a consultant, and c) twice asked the client to formally sign documents confirming that he understood and was aware of the risk.
The firm’s file also contained supporting evidence demonstrating that the level of communication with the complainer throughout was appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances.
The complaint was not upheld. The Committee stated that it was impressed by how well the firm had everything backed up and thought it was worth highlighting what a difference having the file in good order can make.