Divorcing clients make most complaints

28 February 2013

Family law, especially divorce, is the most complained-about field of law in England and Wales, according to figures from the Legal Ombudsman.

Of the 7,500 complaints against solicitors that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) handled in 2011-2012, family law accounted for around 18 per cent. Just over half of these arose from divorce cases.

The most common cause of complaint in family law cases was overcharging. More than a quarter (27%) of divorce-related complaints concerned poor cost information. One in five said their lawyer had not given them an estimate of fees at the initial consultation. In the most extreme cases, one woman’s GBP15,000 bill included GBP4000 for photocopying; LeO told the firm to waive the charges. Another client was presented with a final bill that exceeded the original estimate by GBP30,000. The average cost of divorce is estimated to be GBP1,300.

Poor service was also a common source of dissatisfaction. Some 18 per cent of the complaints alleged a failure on the solicitor’s part to give adequate legal advice ‒ although a few clients unfairly blamed their lawyer for the outcome of their case.

Chief Ombudsman Adam Sampson said that some divorce clients created their own problems by letting emotions take over. But, he said, there were good reasons why divorce tended to attract so many complaints. LeO suggests that divorce lawyers should work harder to forestall cost complaints, for example by giving proper estimates and regular cost updates during a case, and helping customers manage costs themselves. ‘A key legal role is to save customers from themselves,’ it says.

Residential conveyancing was not far behind family law in terms of disgruntled customers, accounting for 17 per cent of complaints to LeO. Wills and probate complaints were the third largest category, at 14 per cent of the total, or just over a thousand.

The LeO report notes that fixed-price offers for services like divorce and probate are gaining some ground in the market, partly because of the emergence of high street brands like the Co-op, and the creation of alternative business structures (ABS) through the Legal Services Act 2007. But it points out that there could be pros and cons, for example ABSs may be tempted to mis-sell cheap loans or insurance products in order to underwrite their divorce services.




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