Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland report highlights 33% increase in complaints about legal practitioners

On April the 7th the LSRA published its first complaints report for 2021 which shows it received 805 complaints in a six month period, demonstrating a 33% increase on the previous period.

The report, entitled Independent Complaints Handling, gives details around the LSRA’s investigative activities in the reporting period of 7 September 2020 to 26 March 2021. The report includes data on the number and nature of the complaints, as well as for the first time including details of the LSRA’s handling of 44 complaints about online advertising by solicitors, which it took over in December 2020.

Data collected within the report included:

  • The LSRA’s Complaints and Resolutions Unit received a total of 805 complaints in the reporting period, up 33% from the previous six month reporting period (when complaints totalled 605).
  • A total of 783 complaints related to solicitors and 22 related to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.
  • A total of 462 complaints (57%) alleged misconduct, with 291 (36%) complaints about alleged inadequate legal services and a further 52 (7%) relating to alleged excessive costs (overcharging).
  • The main areas of legal services that attracted complaints were wills and probate, litigation, family law and conveyancing.

As a result of these complaints

  • A total of 294 complaints were closed during the reporting period, including 104 complaints determined as inadmissible.
  • A total of 91 complaints were resolved with the assistance of the LSRA.
  • The LSRA made determinations in six complaints. Of these, five were complaints about inadequate legal services and one related to excessive costs. In these six cases, which related to legal services provided by solicitors, the LSRA considered that the legal services were inadequate or the costs excessive and upheld the complaints.

This is the first LSRA complaints report to include details of determinations of the Complaints Committee, which is independent from the LSRA in its decision-making.

  • A total of 31 complaints about solicitors were investigated by the independent Complaints Committee which was set up in November 2020 to hear misconduct complaints. Of these, the Complaints Committee upheld two complaints, while five were not upheld and one was withdrawn.
  • Of the two misconduct complaints upheld by the Complaints Committee, one related to communications with the complainant, who was the joint owner of a property that had been sold. The Complaints Committee upheld the complaint but no directions or measures were imposed by the Committee in the case.
  • The second case related to an allegation that a legal practitioner had misled his client as to the work undertaken. The solicitor was directed to make a payment to the complainant of €500 as compensation for financial or other loss suffered by the complainant.
  • A total of six cases were referred by the Complaints Committee to the independent Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT) for further investigation. A total of 16 cases currently remain under investigation by the Complaints Committee.
    Complaints and concerns about advertising

On publishing the report, the LSRA’s Chief Executive Dr Brian Doherty said:

“The LSRA’s complaints and resolutions staff managed a significantly higher volume of both inquiries and complaints, with a third more complaints in comparison to the previous reporting period. The increase in the number of complaints handled and concluded is particularly notable given the challenges faced by staff, complainants and legal practitioners arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. This report contains details for the first time of complaints that have been determined to be admissible and where the LSRA has attempted to informally resolve or to mediate the issue of complaint between the legal practitioner and the complainant. It also contains details for the first time of complaints and concerns about the advertising of legal services received since the LSRA took over responsibility of this important area in December 2020. I strongly encourage all legal practitioners to review their online and other advertising to ensure that these are in line with the new Advertising Regulations 2020 I am still heartened by the engagement of both legal practitioners and complainants in efforts to resolve complaints at an early stage. I am concerned, however, by the reluctance of some legal practitioners to address concerns and complaints that are raised with them in a productive and proactive manner. In our experience to date, early and open engagement with the complaints process will always lead to a quicker and more effective resolution of the matter at hand.”

Read the full report here. (PDF)

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Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland consultation on admissions

The Legal Services Regulation Authority of Ireland (LSRA) preparing and submitting its statutorily required annual report for the Minister for Justice an on admission policies into the legal professions.

The report will contain the following elements:
(a) the number of persons admitted to practise as solicitors during 2020;
(b) the number of persons admitted to practise as barristers during 2020;
(c) an assessment as to whether or not, having regard to the demand for the services of practising barristers and solicitors and the need to ensure an adequate standard of education and training for persons admitted to practise, the number of persons admitted to practise as barristers and solicitors in 2019 is consistent with the public interest in ensuring the availability of such services at a reasonable cost.

The LSRA is interested to hear from those who are directly involved in the provision of legal services as well as from employers, state agencies, non-governmental bodies and other organisations and individuals who deliver and use legal services.

The LSRA is interested in views on whether there are any potential developments which are external to the legal sector (e.g. economic, social or technological) which might impact on admissions to the legal professions and the availability of the services of solicitors and barristers at a reasonable cost.

Following the consultation and other evidence gathering activities, the LSRA will draw up a report to the Minister of Justice. The final report will be submitted to the Minister by 30 April 2021.

Submissions may be sent to publicconsultations@lsra.ie

Read the full call for responses, including what the LSRA would like comment on here.

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Irish Legal Services Regulatory Authority to take over regulation of legal advertising

On the 18th December 2020 the Irish Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) took over the role or regulating advertising by legal practitioners, a role previously held by the Law Society (for solicitors). The rule change comes about under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 (Advertising) Regulations 2020, which applies to print, audio, visual and online advertising.

The regulations apply to solicitors, firms of solicitors and barristers as well as limited liability partnerships (LLPs) who advertise their legal services, and to groups of legal practitioners, who share a facility, premises or cost of practice, who advertise themselves as a group.

The regulations, which allow the advertisement of legal services, currently largely reinforce prohibitions that were already in place, as well as creating new content restrictions.

Prohibitions include:

  • Using phrases such as ‘no win no fee’ in advertisements which refer to personal injury work.
  • Advertisements which include possible damages for personal injury claims that are not based on the Book of Quantum produced by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or guidelines by another statutory body.
  • Advertising in inappropriate locations.
  • Advertising referring to a practitioners ‘success rate’.

Advertisements must also make clear who they are published by.

Consumers will be free to notify the LSRA of any breach of the regulations. The LSRA may then carry out investigations based on this, or carry out investigations of their own volition.

  • The LSRA may decide that a particular advertisement contravenes the regulations or the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.
    If so, the LSRA will give the legal practitioner time to restrict the publication of the advertisement or take other steps it directs.
    The LSRA can apply to the High Court for an order prohibiting a legal practitioner from contravening the regulations.

Read the LSRA’s press release on the changes here, or the updated statutory instruments here.

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Regulatory developments in Ireland

On the 19th November, The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) published two separate reports with recommendations to the Minister for Justice.

The first report is entitled, “Setting Standards: Legal Practitioner Education and Training“. The report is focused on examining the competence and standards required to practise as either a Solicitor or a Barrister in Ireland. The report contains two central recommendations:
1. A clear definition of the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister should be developed;
2. The introduction of a statutory framework to establish a new and independent Legal Practitioner Education and Training Committee, which would be statutorily required and empowered to set the competency framework for legal practitioner education and training; develop a common set of competencies and standards for admission to professional legal training, and ensure that existing providers of legal education and training adhere to the standards required by the competency framework on an ongoing basis.

The second report is entitled, “Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Consideration of Unification of the Solicitors’ Profession and Barristers’ Profession“. The report examines the case for the unification of the profession in Ireland, putting the question out for comment to the public. However, the Authority has concluded that at this stage in its regulatory timeline it would be premature to recommend that the two branches of the profession be unified. The Authority undertakes in the report to return to the matter within five years when it anticipates that the landscape for legal services providers will have evolved sufficiently for it to reconsider the question of unification as posed in the Act. This is due to upcoming changes including the introduction of relaxed rules around legal partnerships between barristers and other barristers or solicitors, as well as further consideration around multi-disciplinary practices.

These reports fulfil the LSRA’s statutory mandate to ensure the maintenance and improvement of standards in the provision of legal services by legal practitioners. Both reports have been submitted to the Minister, as required under section 34 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.

The LSRA’s press release on the two reports is available here. (PDF)

 

 

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The Bar of Ireland releases balance at the Bar survey

The Bar of Ireland has released a survey of 567 practitioners looking at workplace satisfaction and wellbeing in the Bar. The survey looks at various topics including anxiety and stress, mental and physical health, workplace happiness and workplace issues. The survey demonstrates some of the improved benefits to wellbeing in maintaining an open profession where juniors can seek help and advice from their seniors.

Brian O’Driscoll, Chief of Regulation said: “The Bar of Ireland is committed to raising awareness of the value of a positive working environment; to promoting discussion of physical and mental health; and encouraging members of the Law Library to seek help where necessary. In order to increase their understanding of the nature and prevalence of issues impacting on the psychological health and performance of barristers, the Council commissioned a survey entitled ‘Balance at the Bar’ to inquire into the general wellbeing of our members.”

The full report and findings are available here.

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Legal Services Regulatory Authority publishes annual report

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) in Ireland has published its 2019 Annual Report which provides an overview of its performance for the year, including its new role in handling public complaints relating to solicitors and barristers.

The Annual Report contains statistical data on complaints and early trends, including:

  • During the 12 week period from 7th October to the end of December 2019, the LSRA’s Complaints and Resolutions Unit received a total of 304 complaints (301 relating to solicitors and 3 relating to barristers).
  • A total of 141 complaints alleged inadequate standards of services, with 134 alleging misconduct and 29 relating to alleged excessive costs (overcharging).
  • The Complaints and Resolutions Unit received 954 phone calls and emails requesting information and/or complaint forms.
  • Among the areas of legal services complained about were wills and probate, litigation, conveyancing and family law.
  • A total of nine complaints in 2019 involved issues relating to alleged criminal activity, with the majority related to allegations made against what is suspected to be a bogus law firm.

LSRA Chief Executive Brian Doherty said:

“The LSRA had been expecting an early spike in complaints and that is exactly what we have experienced. It is still too early to point to particular trends in relation to the complaints we have received. However, allegations of poor communication between legal professionals and their clients is emerging as a strong feature across almost all complaints. Regular and timely communication with clients appears to be a key lesson for practitioners in preventing and settling complaints before they escalate.”

As well as looking at complaints the report also looked at new statistics available on LLPs

In November 2019, the LSRA introduced a new framework allowing partnerships of solicitors to operate as LLPs.

This new business model is intended to put Ireland on a par with other jurisdictions and has the potential to increase competition in the legal services market, reduce professional indemnity insurance costs for LLPs, and consequently lower costs for consumers.

By the end of 2019, 88 valid applications for LLP authorisation were submitted by legal firms, and 28 authorisations were issued by the LSRA.

The full report is available here.

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Consultation on the unification of the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions in Ireland

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) in Ireland is inviting submissions as part of a public
consultation prior to a report to the Minister for Justice and Equality in relation to unification of the solicitors’ profession and the barristers’ profession.  The consultation is seeking views from a wide range of organisations and individuals in the legal services arena, including service providers and consumers, as well as academics, law firms, statutory agencies, representative bodies, non-governmental organisations and providers of legal training and education.

The LSRA is interested to hear respondents’ views on existing business structures for the delivery of legal services, as well as any opportunities or challenges that might arise from the unification of both branches of the legal profession.  Responses which provide insight into the experience of arrangements in operation in other relevant jurisdictions would also be useful.

Read more about this consultation and participate

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LSRA announces the introduction of LLPs in Ireland and new complaints procedure

Law firms in Ireland are now able to set up limited liability partnerships (LLPs), following the commencement of a section of the 2015 Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) Act.  As of October, the LSRA also took on responsibility for the complaints procedure governing solicitors and barristers in Ireland.  Complaints made prior to October against solicitors and barristers will continue to be investigated by their respective professional bodies, but all new complaints will be examined by a process overseen by the LSRA.

Read more…

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New Irish legal watchdog hindered by deadlines

The State’s new watchdog for the legal professions has warned its work is being frustrated by the requirement to meet deadlines set out in its grounding legislation.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has called for changes to the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 to allow it to fulfil its statutory role to oversee services provided by solicitors and barristers.

The authority claimed the “hard wiring” of the legislation which provides for the automatic triggering of certain actions without due consideration of the resources and infrastructure required to implement them was “unhelpful”.

“The establishment of the LSRA as a fully functioning regulatory body has been delayed due to the requirement to meet statutorily mandated deadlines that run throughout the Act,” the LSRA said.

It is understood officials have been concerned about the requirement to deliver a series of mandatory public consultations, reports and actions within set timelines.

The watchdog claimed such deadlines were “restrictive, resource intensive and not conducive to the ordered roll-out of its regulatory functions.”

The findings are contained in a new review of the operation of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.

The LSRA said legislative changes were necessary to ensure the funding model envisaged by the Act would operate to provide sufficient and sustainable funding that would allow it to carry out its oversight work.

The legal services watchdog is expected to be self-funding from a new levy which will be imposed on all registered barristers and solicitors.

However, a consultant’s report has warned that it is likely to operate in deficit in its early years with “an increasing reliance” on government funding to fulfil its mandate.

The LSRA has signalled it hopes to start accepting complaints from members of the public against solicitors and barrister from October 2019.

The watchdog has made a total of 42 recommendations for amendments to the legislation to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

A spokesman for Mr Flanagan said the minister and his officials were giving “detailed and open consideration” to the LSRA’s recommendations.

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Education and Training in Ireland

In response to the report on Education and Training in Ireland published on 19 November by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA), the Law Society of Ireland has launched the Peart Commission Report, developed by an expert group chaired by Mr Justice Michael Peart of the Court of Appeal.

The report contains 30 recommendations setting out a vision for the future of solicitor training in Ireland. Law Society of Ireland Director General Ken Murphy said, ‘training solicitors to meet any and all challenges they will face in their careers is some of the most important work the Law Society does. Mr Murphy explained, ‘implementing the Peart Commission recommendations will have several benefits. It will further increase access to the profession for trainees across diverse educational, professional and socio-economic backgrounds and ensure the Law Society maintains its prominent position as an innovative professional legal educator globally.’ He added, ‘the Law Society’s education model is deeply rooted in the public interest and focussed on the future.’

Law Society Report Available Here

LSRA Report Available Here*

*This report was required by the Legal Services Act 2015 and is the first step in a comprehensive review which will involve further public consultation in 2019.

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