LSB consultation on first-tier complaints – Law Society response

A ‘first-tier complaint’ is a complaint made to an authorised person about the legal services they provided.

Complaints about the conduct of legal services professionals are not included in this definition.

Handling of first-tier complaints is governed by the LSB’s requirements under section 112(2) of the Legal Services Act (LSA) 2007 and guidance on first-tier complaints handling.

LSB research published in August 2023 made recommendations for improving complaints handling, including a focus on managing expectations and continuous improvement.

The proposals

The LSB is consulting on draft requirements, draft guidance and a draft statement of policy on outcomes for regulators.

The LSB has proposed that parts of the existing guidance are codified into the requirements.

The draft proposals also introduce new requirements for regulators and their regulated communities.

Our view

We broadly support the policy aim of improving first-tier complaints handling processes and encouraging a culture of learning from complaints.

However, the evidence base for the LSB’s position is unclear. Consumers are increasingly satisfied with the legal services provided by firms.

In 2022, 85% of consumers were satisfied with the legal services provided compared to 79% in 2012 according to Legal Services Consumer Panel data.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) also reported in 2022 that the rate of resolution of complaints has risen to 81% in 2022 from 72% in 2012.

The reasons for this trend of improvement will likely include:

  • the strength of existing regulatory requirements
  • professional indemnity insurance requirements
  • the commercial interests of firms
  • better availability of information to help firms operate complaints handling procedures

Given this trend of improvement and the unlikelihood that all complaints are capable of resolution at first-tier stage, the impact of the proposed changes may be minimal.

Some of the proposed requirements create a tension between the regulatory objectives and may:

  • have a negative impact on access to justice
  • reduce competition
  • discourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession

The LSB should only implement changes that are proportionate and will make a material difference, taking into consideration the size of firms, type of work and client base.

What this means for solicitors

Law firms are already subject to substantial regulatory obligations, with few exemptions for smaller firms.

Further regulatory obligations would increase the resource and cost burden on solicitors.

If these proposals go ahead, some firms may have little option but to pass these costs on to consumers.

Next steps

As the professional body for solicitors, we amplify the powerful collective voice of more than 200,000 solicitors by advocating on the issues you’ve told us matter most.

We will work to champion your interests and make sure your views are heard by decision makers at the highest levels.

The consultation closed on 17 November 2023.

Read the full consultation on the LSB website

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