Guidance and Best Practice Notes
Under Section 40 of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, the SLCC may issue guidance in the form of "Best Practice Notes" and make recommendations about standards expected in relation to systems operated by practitioners for dealing with complaints.
Whilst this guidance is not mandatory, non-compliance will be taken into account where a complaint has been made. Practitioners may be required to justify any departure from this guidance or to provide an explanation about why the guidance should not apply in any particular circumstances. Any alleged failure to follow the guidance may result in a service or conduct complaint being admitted for investigation.
Meeting the SLCC's expectations
All practitioners, not just Client Relations Managers, should ensure that they are aware of the guidance and advice and information issued by both the SLCC and the relevant professional organisation when dealing with all expressions of dissatisfaction.
Client Relations Managers are expected to ensure that all practitioners within the firm are made aware of the SLCC's Best Practice Notes and any Advice and Information. Where appropriate, steps should be taken to update the existing written complaints handling procedures and necessary changes made to complaint handling processes.
Best practice in complaint handling – a guide for solicitors
The following guidance sets out what we consider to be the principles of a good complaint handling process. The document also outlines what the SLCC considers to be best practice for solicitors to adopt when dealing with a complaint.
Best practice in complaint handling- solicitors (PDF, 572 KB)
Best practice in complaint handling – a guide for advocates
This guide covers six basic principles of complaints handling and three steps to effective complaint handling. It also includes an example of a model complaint handling process for Advocates.
Best practice in complaint handling - advocates (PDF, 565 KB)
The SLCC considers that it is always preferable to prevent complaints. This guidance sets out relatively simple steps, based on our experience of complaint handling, which solicitors can take to reduce the risk of a complaint arising. The guidance also includes a number of example complaints.
Preventing complaints (PDF, 608 KB)
Newly qualified solicitors - improving complaint handling
Complaint handling training for Newly Qualified Solicitors (for Client Relations Managers)
The SLCC has created a dedicated note not only for newly qualified solicitors on complaint handling and prevention, but also a separate guide for Client Relations Managers whose role it is to deliver training about complaints handling and avoidance. It is hoped that this will provide individuals with a better insight into what people typically complain about. This will not only help avoid the common pitfalls which tend to lead to complaints, but should also make you better equipped to deal with a complaint, should one be made.
"Best Practice Notes" issued by the SLCC are as follows:
1. Signposting -
Practitioners should ensure that clients, or others, who may wish to express dissatisfaction with a practitioner or firm, are advised of the SLCC as the gateway for complaints at an appropriate time (issue date 04.12.09).
2. Time limits -
Practitioners should emphasise that the SLCC operates strict time limits for accepting complaints, which require complaints to be made within one year of the service ending or the conduct occurring. However, the SLCC will disregard any time it considers that the complainer was excusably unaware of their concerns (issue date 09.11.12).
3. Third party documentation -
Where the SLCC asks for information / documentation in the course of an investigation of a third party service complaint, practitioners should always consider whether they can provide some of the information / documentation requested, even if other information / documentation is confidential to their own client and protected by legal professional privilege (issue date 16.10.13.
4. Responding to complaints -
Where a practitioner / Client Relations Manager has received a complaint (whether that is verbally or in writing), a formal response (preferably in writing to avoid potential disputes over what was discussed verbally) should be provided to the complainer within 28 days. If any attempt to resolve the complaint fails, or if the practitioner / Client Relations Manager considers that the complaint is without merit or has been unreasonably made, the position should be made clear to the complainer and the complainer should be advised that this is the practitioner’s final response (issue date 16.10.13).
5. Responding to third party complaints -
Where a practitioner / Client Relations Manager has received a third party complaint, a formal response, preferably in writing, should be provided within 28 days, insofar as this does not breach their obligation to maintain client confidentiality. Practitioners / Client Relations Managers should always respond to a complaint, even if this is simply to say that they are unable to provide a full response as they do not have permission from their client to respond. In these circumstances, the practitioner / Client Relations Manager should confirm that no further correspondence will be entered into (issue date 16.10.13).
6. Costs updates -
In accordance with the Law Society of Scotland’s practice rule B1.9.2, clients should be provided with regular costs updates (including details of any outlays incurred) and be advised of any changes to the hourly charging rates. The SLCC considers also that practitioners should not provide exclusions in the terms of engagement letters which depart from the matters expected to be covered per the Law Society’s rules (issue date 16.10.13).
As and when new "Best Practice Notes" are issued, the relevant professional organisations will be asked to communicate the information directly to practitioners.