The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has published guidance for legal service providers on its approach when considering complaints during the COVID 19 pandemic.
Firms may have difficulty responding to first-tier complaints from clients within the usual eight-week timeframe. For example, there may be delays if staff cannot access files or are on sick leave.
If a complaint is at the first-tier stage, and you cannot respond within the timeframe, it’s important to let the complainant know so that they do not think you are ignoring their complaint.
If possible, give a timeframe for when you may be able to respond. If not, then try to keep the complainant informed at reasonable intervals. You should document any communications. You should also comply with your firm’s existing contingency plans, if any, as far as reasonably possible.
If the complainant escalates the matter to LeO then you can demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to communicate the circumstances and to keep the complainant informed of the situation.
LeO has said that it will work to be as flexible as possible with service providers impacted by the crisis and would take your actions into account.
If the complaint is already with LeO and you’re having difficulty responding to LeO. For example, this may because of the COVID 19 crisis your archive service provider cannot send the files to you.
It will be important for LeO to keep the complainant updated about the delay in progressing their complaint. It’s important that you inform LeO about the circumstances as soon as possible and co-operate in keeping LeO updated. It may help to show LeO copies of any relevant correspondence you have with your archive service provider.
It’s also important that you inform LeO about the circumstances as soon as possible and co-operate in keeping LeO updated. It may help to show copies of any relevant correspondence you have with your archive service provider.
Prospective clients can raise complaints with LeO for ‘unreasonable refusal of service’. You may decline to take instructions from a prospective client if your firm is unable to take on a new retainer due to the current difficult circumstance. We would recommend that you document the conversation and the reasons for refusal; in case a complaint is later raised.
Read the SRA guidance on this issue
In addition to the SRA’s guidance we would also suggest putting your operating arrangements on your website, so that potential customers are informed.