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How can I assess the correct level of compensation to offer a client?

How can I assess the correct level of compensation to offer a client if I wish to conciliate a complaint 'in-house'?

The Legal Ombudsman has published a brief 'Guide to Good Complaints Handling'. There is a considerable emphasis in this guidance on the way in which the solicitor handles the complaint.

When considering how to resolve a complaint, each individual case should be considered by a solicitor on its own merits. 

 The Ombudsman’s guidance clarifies that 'poor service' should be compensated by 'proportionate' redress and a reasonable 'way to put things right'. This should be determined by the impact on the client, including 'upset and inconvenience' and the degree of disadvantage experienced as a result of any poor service. 

You must ensure that 'proportionate' redress is offered promptly and you will need to exercise your best professional judgment as to what 'proportionate' means in the circumstances of each complaint.

The Legal Ombudsman's website contains an archive of case studies. In addition it publishes brief details of all 'final decisions'. 

It should therefore be possible to find some guidance as to what level of compensation or other 'way to put things right' (if any) might be appropriate in a number of differing situations. Obviously this information will grow and become more useful over time as the Ombudsman becomes more established.

Where possible, you should ensure that the complaint is 'reviewed by someone not involved' in the matter leading to the complaint. This will provide a more independent view of what went wrong and how that matter might be best resolved. 

If you are a sole practitioner you may wish to consider obtaining an independent confidential view from a local law society colleague. You may also consult the Law Society's Lawyerline Solicitors for advice on 0207 320 5720 on weekdays from 9am to 5pm.

It will be important to get the views of the client on how a complaint might best be resolved. This may be an apology or an explanation, if appropriate. Alternatively, or additionally, it may be that financial compensation is required. 

Once you have agreed on a figure you should set out the rationale for having arrived at that figure in your response to the complaint.

You should note that the Legal Ombudsman’s guidance provides that if a 'reasonable offer' is made to the client and is not accepted, you should refer the client 'straight' to the Legal Ombudsman so that he can help to resolve the deadlock.

The Legal Ombudsman, when reading your complaint file, will then be able to assess whether or not your response to the complaint has been 'reasonable, fair and proportionate' and whether you have been 'accessible and responsive' to the individual's needs, as set out in the Ombudsman's 'Guide to Good Complaints Handling'.

Disclaimer: 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.

Have you got a practice question? Call the Practice Advice Service on 020 7320 5675 or email

The Practice Advice Service is staffed Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

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