Client care

Refusing to provide a service

I understand that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will now accept complaints from prospective clients where a person has unreasonably been refused a service. In what circumstances can I reasonably refuse to provide a service?

Reasonable reasons for refusing to provide a service include:

  • you do not undertake that type of work,
  • the client is unable to fund the work required,
  • you are too busy/do not have time to do the work
  • ethical, regulatory or other reasons to refuse (for example a suspicion of money laundering, conflict of interest, insurance issues), or
  • the case is too complex or difficult or you do not have the relevant skills and experience.

There may be other reasonable reasons for refusing to provide a service. You should consider whether your decision to refuse service is reasonable on the facts and whether it is likely to lead you to breach Principle 2 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 requiring you to act with integrity.

It is unlawful to refuse to provide a service to a prospective client on the basis of age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex or sexual orientation.

It is also contrary to the SRA Code of Conduct.

Where you refuse to provide a service to a prospective client you should provide them with a reason for that refusal.

LeO recognises that there will be limited paperwork in cases relating to prospective clients. In some cases, where an enquiry is by email, the response will be recorded. In other cases, for example enquiries via phone or in person, there may be no record.

Given the changes to the rules, you may wish to consider making a note of what has happened in some cases, for example if the prospective client seems upset or angry about your refusal to provide a service.

Where the firm has not provided a service, LeO would not normally expect the full complaints procedure to be followed.

Instead, if you receive a complaint regarding refusal of service, a short explanation of why you refused to act should be sufficient. You should also signpost the client to the LeO.

It is important to note that where a person is complaining about being refused a service they will need to produce evidence that there was no legitimate reason for the refusal to provide the service.

They will also need to show that there has been a financial loss or that they have been unreasonably inconvenienced by the refusal. For this reason, it is likely that this type of complaint will be rare.

For details of the Scheme Rules please see the Legal Ombudsman's website.

For confidential advice on client care, complaints handling and how to deal with the Legal Ombudsman email Lawyerline or call 020 7320 5720.


While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The Law Society does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given.

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