legal watchdog | 

Revealed: The number of complaints against lawyers in your county in 2020

Geographical data on barristers and solicitors is published for first time
Stock photo: PA

Stock photo: PA

Shane Phelan

More than 1,400 complaints were made against lawyers in Ireland last year, the legal services watchdog has revealed.

Some 1,389 related to solicitors while 33 related to barristers, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) said in its 2020 annual report.

The watchdog has also, for the first time, provided a county-by-county breakdown of complaints.

Unsurprisingly, given its larger population and higher concentration of lawyers, Dublin had the most complaints, with 559, followed by Cork, with 149.

But the figures showed there was a disproportionately higher number of complaints about lawyers based in some counties compared to others.

For example, 64 complaints were made about lawyers in Donegal, 61 about practitioners in Mayo and the same number in relation to lawyers in Galway.

This is despite the fact the number of solicitors in Mayo and Donegal is roughly a third of the number practising in Galway.

The number of complaints in Donegal was the third highest of any county.

Solicitor numbers in Kerry and Tipperary are roughly the same but the number of complaints in Kerry (37) was just over double the 18 recorded for Tipperary last year.

It is not clear why some counties have seen such a disproportionate number of complaints.

However, the LSRA report said multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.

While some counties appeared to have a disproportionately high number of complaints, the ones with the lowest levels generally corresponded with lower practitioner numbers.

The counties with the lowest level of complaints were Monaghan (14), Carlow (13), Offaly (11), Kilkenny (11), Roscommon (9) and Laois (9).

The LSRA only took over responsibility for complaints about legal practitioners from the professional bodies for solicitors and barristers in October 2019, so this is the first time it has been able to provide complaints figures for a calendar year.

Its annual report said “poor communication” was “very much at the heart of the majority of the complaints” the watchdog received.

The largest category of complaints, at 819 (58pc), related to alleged misconduct.

A total of 496 (35pc) were from clients in relation to alleged inadequate standards of legal services, and a further 107 (7pc) were from clients who alleged they had been overcharged.

Of the 819 complaints of alleged misconduct, 218 related to conduct likely to bring the profession into disrepute.

A further 143 related to a failure to communicate, 107 to a failure to hand over a file or other deeds and documents, 81 involved a failure to comply with an undertaking given to a colleague or financial institution, 71 related to a failure to account for clients’ money and 57 involved alleged fraud or dishonesty.

Of the 496 complaints alleging inadequate services, 153 related to litigation, 112 related to the administration of estates and a further 112 were in connection with conveyancing.

Of the 107 excessive costs complaints, 38 related to litigation, 24 to family law, 18 to conveyancing and 11 to probate.

Most of the complaints made in 2020 remain open.

The watchdog said 365 were closed during the year, of which 184 were deemed inadmissible.

It said 104 complaints were informally resolved between the parties at an early stage of the process and described the proportion of complaints being resolved in this way as “extremely encouraging”.

A further 62 complaints were withdrawn following exchanges of information between complainants and legal practitioners, facilitated by the LSRA.

The report said independent complaints committees heard 19 misconduct cases during 2020. The committees sit in private and the outcome of most of these cases has yet to be disclosed.

One complaint was referred to the new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal during 2020. The tribunal will generally sit in public and deal with more serious misconduct allegations.

The report outlined how 38 people were unhappy with how the LSRA had dealt with their concerns and made complaints to the Ombudsman.

Of these, 29 complaints were closed on the basis the Ombudsman was satisfied the LSRA dealt with the matters correctly. The remainder had yet to be dealt with by the end of 2020, the report said.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a code of conduct for the judiciary will move a step closer tomorrow when a draft set of ethical guidelines is due to be considered by the board of the Judicial Council.

Speaking yesterday, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said he hoped it would be possible to progress towards the final adoption of guidelines and the setting up of a complaints and investigation process for the judiciary thereafter.

The absence of such guidelines for Irish judges has long been considered an anomaly.

Last year former Chief Justice Susan Denham called for their introduction “as a matter of urgency”.

She made the remarks after conducting a non-statutory review into the attendance by Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe at a controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

Ms Justice Denham found it would have been better had Mr Justice Woulfe not attended the dinner and said it was highly unlikely he would have if such guidelines had been in place.

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