And hot on the heels of the last tip….
Misunderstandings are the most common factor in professional negligence claims. The best guard against this is regular communication in plain English.
Once you have sent out your brief how often do you get in touch?
- Consider a maximum time response when replying to correspondence and perhaps a ‘Service Level Agreement’ on the timing of responses.
- If anything adverse happens in a case tell the client as soon as possible and explain the options to remedy the problem.
- If you request something from a client make a diary note so you can chase it up if it’s not forthcoming.
- Agree to a timetable upfront and make sure the client understands when each stage of the work will be completed. Talk to them if deadlines have to be pushed back and explain why.
And talking of plain communication, a survey published by the Legal Ombudsman a few years ago says that legal services consumers feel intimidated by jargon when they make complaints to law firms and for that reason are more likely to take their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman (whose remit is to resolve legal complaints in a fair and independent way). The survey of people who had complained to the Ombudsman found significant barriers between consumers and providers over the language used in correspondence. The research found examples of defensive responses from firms that could be interpreted as ‘confrontational and threatening’.
The language used was too difficult to understand or was felt to be intimidating, leaving consumers either angry or resolved to take the complaint elsewhere. And that significant numbers of complainants had gone directly to the Ombudsman. Of clients who had complained to the Legal Ombudsman before giving their lawyer the chance to resolve the complaint - what the Ombudsman calls a ‘premature complaint’ - 63% said it was because they had no confidence they would be taken seriously or that their complaint would be resolved fairly.
It was also found that legal services consumers were unsure of the role of the ombudsman in the complaints process.
Interestingly, the survey found firms that dealt with complaints successfully were more likely to be recommended to others by the aggrieved person, despite the original dispute. The moral of the story is clear: talk openly with your client and address issues before they have time to fester.
If you need any advice or help, contact Karim.
Just in case you missed the first tip: