How to nip those complaints in the bud
As per the Legal Ombudsman’s recent annual report, the most common cause for complaints about lawyers was delays or failure to progress a case, ahead of failure to advise and failure to follow instructions.
It may come as little surprise that the main areas for complaints are Litigation, Family Law, Residential Conveyancing and Wills & Probate with these areas often being more fractious and inciting an emotional response. Complaints can be very costly and time consuming for a firm to deal with and can at times turn into claims which impact upon the firm’s professional indemnity policies.
Here at Riliance we provide an outsourced complaints’ handling service for a number of firms. From our experience there are certain steps which can be taken to ward off complaints and increase client satisfaction, including the following:
- It is back to basics in terms of ensuring good client care and service quality – provide the service that you would like to receive if you were the client. This includes regular communication – both by way of initiating contact to provide updates and responding promptly to clients’ enquiries, listening attentively to clients’ instructions and what they would like to achieve and building positive relations.
- Managing clients’ expectations from the outset is key in terms of outlining the key stages of a transaction, what information you require from them to progress the matter and estimated timescales for each stage and until conclusion. It is also important to clearly set out when you are likely to be in contact with a client.
- An organised file management system is also very important where key dates can be clearly diarised and reminders set to prompt the fee earner to take next steps and proactively progress files. Template documents can also be stored there to streamline the necessary processes.
- Ensure that fee earners have the relevant expertise and experience to handle the files they are responsible for and that more junior staff are closely supervised at regular intervals so that any gaps in knowledge are identified and addressed early on and to allow input from a more experienced colleague when necessary.
- Provide training on new processes and procedures that are introduced in specific areas of law and establish clear internal procedures/ guidance on how these are to be dealt with. Do not presume that fee earners will find new processes straightforward to deal with. Introduce a system of supervision so that fee earners are more closely overseen until they have been found to be fully competent in all key areas.
- Attention to detail – avoid treating routine work as a tick box exercise and becoming complacent – documents that have been prepared should be carefully checked for errors before being sent to clients and signed documents received from clients checked promptly upon receipt to ensure they have been completed in the correct way. This will enable any errors to be dealt with straightaway rather than late in the day when it may cause bigger problems such as delays and documents being found to be invalid.
- Provide regular training on soft skills such as effective listening, professionalism and time management to better equip your team to provide a good level of service going forwards.
- Where a client does express dissatisfaction, be proactive and address their concerns promptly, rather than burying your head in the sand and allowing matters to escalate. Demonstrate an attitude of accountability and look for a way forward which is agreeable to all involved.