What can you do, if you believe that you have received poor quality service or even negligent advice from a solicitor? Jill Benbow explains.

Firstly, you should complain to the solicitor and give them a chance to rectify the situation. At the outset, you should have signed an engagement letter setting out the basis of your instructions, and what you can expect from your lawyer in terms of standards of service. The engagement letter should contain information about how you can complain to the lawyer’s firm or professional organisation if you are not satisfied with their response. It is not sufficient for any complaints handling to just be mentioned in the terms and conditions. It needs to be specifically drawn to your attention and be well publicised, for instance, on the firm’s web site.

From October 6th 2010, the Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales will deal with unresolved complaints about providers of legal services. This can include a solicitor, legal executive, barrister, conveyancing executive or anyone providing you with legal services.

It is totally independent of the legal profession, and aims to provide a free and impartial service to all members of the public, small businesses, clubs, charities and trusts, in resolving complaints with their legal adviser.

You can make a complaint to the Ombudsman, within 12 months of the problem arising and within six months of receiving any final response from your lawyer, who should have taken no more than eight weeks, to try and resolve things in the first place. If it has taken longer than that, then this is another matter that the ombudsman might investigate.

The Ombudsman’s powers in resolving a complaint are wide. Compensation for any loss suffered, or for distress and inconvenience, up to £30,000 can be ordered to be paid by the lawyer. The lawyer can also be required to rectify any mistake.

Occasionally, complaints are more serious and can involve negligence.

The Ombudsman’s website suggests, however, that they will not consider negligence, because they cannot give legal advice, but some of the examples of resolved complaints do involve negligent mistakes, as well as poor service. This is because negligence complaints very often also contain complaints about poor service. The compensation limit of £30,000 also suggests that awards can be made for some complainants who have suffered loss because of negligence.

The Legal Services Commission website provides statistics for complaints resolved in the last year. It shows that an average of £250 to £300 per resolved complaint was paid out as compensation. This is not a significant sum, so caution should therefore be taken in assuming that the Ombudsman will definitely deal with your complaint, if it includes allegations of negligence, and that you will also be properly compensated for it.

The professional negligence of solicitors is a highly specialised area of the law. It is complex and you will need guidance on establishing negligence and determining what losses you have suffered as a result. Bad legal advice can have all sorts of ramifications. A failed property transaction, for instance is not just about the loss of the property, but also the loss of that asset as a long term investment, or the profit on it, the costs of finding an alternative one, and the costs of going through the process again. The negligent solicitor is not going to tell you what losses you are entitled to recover from him or her, nor is the Ombudsman going to advise you either.

If you feel that you have suffered at the hands of a former legal adviser, then we are specialists in this field, and can help you assess the nature of the claim and identify the best remedy for it.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.