Regulator's guide for advocates written by advocates.. ADVOCATES who face complaints over poor provision of legal services & sub par performances in Scotland’s courts now have a new weapon in dealing with complaints - in the form of a ‘help guide’ on how to deal with dissatisfied clients.
The nine page booklet, issued yesterday by Scotland’s ‘independent’ legal regulator – The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) - was developed with the co-operation and input of the advocates own lobby group - the Faculty of Advocates.
SLCC CEO Matthew Vickers welcomed the guide, saying: “Improving standards of complaint handling and service is an important part of our work. We’re pleased to see the interest shown by members of the Faculty of Advocates in the guide we’ve produced.”
The guide, published below, covers six basic principles of complaints handling and three steps to effective complaint handling. It also includes an example of a model complaint handling process for Scotland’s highly paid, mega earning advocates.
However the guide’s references to transparency & fairness appear far from the reality of how the legal profession deal with complaints against its own in the environment of self regulation – where on occasion, advocates have used law firms to threaten clients who make complaints about their conduct. In at least one instance known to the media, an advocate even used Police Officers in an attempt to escape a complaint.
The guide states: At the outset, the approach to the complainer should be empathetic and not defensive - a defensive response will usually prove counter-productive. Try to see the complaint from the client's perspective and engage openly, demonstrating an understanding of the issues which the complainer has raised. Bear in mind that it may have been difficult for the complainer to raise the matter by way of a complaint, particularly where they are emotionally involved.
It then goes on to claim: To achieve and maintain credibility it is important that the complaints process is transparent and fair. Complaints should be dealt with in a consistent approach which is, at the same time, proportionate to the complaint. The response to the complaint should be based on the facts surrounding the matter complained of rather than on assumptions. Each individual advocate is responsible for handling any complaint against him or her, but communications may be passed through Counsel's Clerk. Guidance can also be obtained from a Faculty Office Bearer or from the Dean's Secretariat.
A list of ‘dos and don'ts’ to advocates on the run from complaints contain the following suggestions:
• Be alert to any expression of dissatisfaction which should be regarded as a complaint, or at least a potential complaint, and treat it as such. Remember that this could be received by your Clerk or a member of FSL staff dealing with an outstanding fee.
• Engage with the client to understand the issue at hand. Do this through your Clerk if you wish to maintain some distance.
• Be empathetic with the complainer, be aware of the impact which the issue may have had on the complainer, including the emotional impact of bringing the matter to your attention.
• Don't avoid the problem or hope that it will go away; always respond to a complaint.
• Don't delay dealing with the complaint - the last thing you want is an additional complaint about concerns not being dealt with in good time.
Finally, don't ignore complaints from third parties - the SLCC can accept complaints from parties other than a practitioner's own clients and you need to treat these as seriously as a complaint from your own client, although it is important to bear in mind any confidentiality issues
Commenting on the guide, former MSP and now Vice-Dean of Faculty Gordon Jackson QC said: “As the SLCC indicated in its most recent annual report, there are very few complaints about advocates. As a result, it is helpful to have been able to produce a guidance document for those members who may not have had to deal with a complaint," said Gordon Jackson, QC, Vice-Dean of Faculty.
"The Faculty is and always has been committed to promoting the provision by its members of the highest quality legal services. It is important that the public should know that if an advocate receives a complaint, it will be handled properly and in accordance with standards approved by the SLCC. We have therefore been pleased, in the course of revising our complaints and disciplinary procedures, also to have worked very closely with the SLCC to prepare guidance for our members on complaints handling."
Vice Dean Mr Jackson - who once lost a £50K claim for slipping on ice covered pavements on Johnston Terrace in Edinburgh after temporary judge Gordon Reid QC said he had no relevant case against Edinburgh City Council – also sought to reassure the public over how complaints about advocates are handled.
He said: “The Faculty is and always has been committed to promoting the provision by its members of the highest quality legal services. It is important that the public should know that if an advocate receives a complaint, it will be handled properly and in accordance with standards approved by the SLCC.”
The guide was formally launched at an event on 8 January at the Faculty of Advocates by the SLCC’s Head of Oversight and the Dean of Faculty. The guide follows a previous guide for solicitors. Both guides are available on the SLCC’s website at Guidance and Advice for Practitioners pages.
Have you had a bad experience with an advocate, or made a complaint about an advocate and found the regulation system failed to deal with it? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org