Very few claims of over­charg­ing up­held by Law So­ci­ety

Irish Independent - - News - Shane Phe­lan Le­gal Af­fairs Edi­tor

THE Law So­ci­ety investigates com­plaints about al­leged over­charg­ing, but very few have been up­held over the past decade.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive and reg­u­la­tory body for solic­i­tors re­ceived 1,271 com­plaints of over­charg­ing made by clients against solic­i­tors between 2007 and 2016.

But sta­tis­tics pro­vided to the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent show just 83 (or 6.5pc) of th­ese re­sulted in an ad­verse out­come for the so­lic­i­tor com­plained of.

Com­plaints were deemed up­held in 47 cases.

The so­ci­ety said the rem­edy ap­plied was a di­rec­tion to the so­lic­i­tor to waive or re­fund some, or all, of the fee.

There were a fur­ther 31 cases where the so­ci­ety rec­om­mended to the so­lic­i­tor that they re­duce their fees and the so­lic­i­tor agreed, with no for­mal di­rec­tion be­ing made against them.

In only five cases was the over­charg­ing of a client was found to be so ex­ces­sive that it mer­ited re­fer­ral to the Solic­i­tors Dis­ci­plinary Tri­bunal.

This is an in­de­pen­dent body that investigates mis­con­duct and can im­pose sanc­tions.

The so­ci­ety said 543 com­plaints were re­jected and 63 were aban­doned or with­drawn.

It de­scribed 454 other com­plaints as hav­ing been re­solved in some way or other, with­out need for a find­ing to have been made. In 81 cases, clients who did not have a valid com­plaint were said to have been “as­sisted” as a re­sult of the so­ci­ety’s in­ter­ven­tion. In such cases, solic­i­tors ended up agree­ing to re­duce their fee or ac­cept­ing pay­ment by in­stal­ments.

In 25 cases, the out­come of the com­plaint was not recorded. Com­plaints are han­dled by the so­ci­ety’s com­plaints and client re­la­tions sec­tion.

In one re­cent case ex­am­ined by the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, an over­charg­ing com­plaint was re­jected af­ter the com­plaints and client re­la­tions sec­tion ex­am­ined time sheets pro­vided by the so­lic­i­tor com­plained of. The sec­tion de­ter­mined the so­lic­i­tor ac­tu­ally charged the client less than he could have, given the amount of time spent work­ing on the mat­ter. The find­ing has since been ap­pealed to an in­de­pen­dent ad­ju­di­ca­tor, who has the power to di­rect the so­ci­ety to ei­ther re-ex­am­ine the com­plaint or make an ap­pli­ca­tion to the Solic­i­tors Dis­ci­plinary Tri­bunal.

The cur­rent com­plaints mech­a­nism will soon be re­placed by the Le­gal Ser­vices Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity (LSRA), which will have a com­plaints com­mit­tee that will have the power to make re­fer­rals to a new Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers Dis­ci­plinary Tri­bunal.

The Law So­ci­ety will con­tinue deal­ing with com­plaints un­til the new struc­tures are set up. Af­ter­wards, any com­plaints it re­ceives will have to be re­ferred to the LSRA.

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