Very few claims of overcharging upheld by Law Society
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The society said 543 complaints were rejected and 63 were abandoned or withdrawn.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.