A report by The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has shown that during the period from 7 September 2020 to 26 March 2021, it received a total of 2,352 phone calls and e-mails requesting information and/or complaint forms.
This represents a substantial increase on the 1,271 emails and phone calls received during the previous reporting period.
Following an assessment of these files, a total of 805 were then categorised as complaints.
This has led to renewed criticism of the conditions that must first be met before a file can be categorised as a ‘complaint.’
For example; under the terms of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, the LSRA “shall determine a complaint to be inadmissible” if the complaint was not made within the relatively short window of 3 years after the date on which the legal services concerned were provided or from when the bill of costs was issued.
Of the 805 complaints received, the Report says that the largest category related to alleged misconduct (462 or 57% while a total of 291 complaints (36%) related to alleged inadequate legal services, and a further 52 (7%) came under the category of alleged excessive costs.
The understanding of what constitutes misconduct ranges from allegations of fraud or dishonesty to criminal activity.
It can also include a breach of the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2015 such as the commission of a crime or offence outside the State which, if committed within the State, would be an arrestable offence.
The LSRA Report goes on to remind legal practitioners that when advertising their services, they are prohibited from using phrases such as “no win no fee”, and “free first consultation.”
Other prohibited forms of words in legal advertisements include advertisements in any form in an inappropriate location such as a hospital, clinic, doctor’s surgery, funeral home, cemetery, crematorium or advertisements which refer to the “success rate” of a legal practitioner.
The Regulatory Authority also found that in misconduct cases, most of the legal practitioners did not respond promptly or at all to communications from fellow legal practitioners.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority was itself the subject of sustained attacks by the Law Society and the Bar Council of Ireland when the legislation underpinning it was first going through the Dáil in 2011 and 2012.
At that point, the then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter noted that a conference was held at which representatives of both the Law Society and the Bar Council spoke of the alleged threat the Bill presented to “the independence of the legal profession.”
However, as Mr Shatter went on to observe, no such concerns about the independence of the legal profession were ever expressed when it came to the Law Society or the Bar Council willingly receiving substantial sums of money paid by the State to lawyers under the criminal legal aid scheme or the employment of lawyers by the State for any other purpose.