Two out of three complaints made against lawyers last year alleged misconduct

Regulator upheld just 111 of 1,432 complaints finalised in 2023, with half found inadmissible

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority received 1,290 complaints in 2023, down 4 per cent on 2022

Two out of three of almost 1,300 complaints made about lawyers to the legal services regulator last year concerned alleged misconduct.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) closed investigations into 1,432 complaints in 2023, of which it upheld just 111 (8 per cent).

Almost half (699) of the closed complaints were closed because they were found inadmissible while 138 complaints (10 per cent) were not upheld.

Thirty complaints of alleged misconduct were referred to the separate Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal for an inquiry and the regulator made 12 applications to the High Court to enforce its directions in complaints against legal practitioners.

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In its annual report published on Wednesday, the LSRA, operational since late 2019, said it received 1,290 complaints in 2023, down 4 per cent on 2022. Of those, most (1,233) were against solicitors and 57 concerned barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater contact with clients.

Most complaints, 835 (65 per cent), were about alleged misconduct including bringing the profession into disrepute, communication failures and fraud/dishonesty; 244 (19 per cent) related to inadequate standards of legal services, mainly in relation to litigation, conveyancing, family law and probate; and 30 (2 per cent) alleged overcharging. The remaining 181 complaints were brought on mixed grounds.

LSRA chief executive Dr Brian Doherty welcomed an increase in the number of consumers and legal practitioners willing to engage with each other to informally resolve complaints, assisted by the regulator’s complaints staff and trained mediators.

He said 256 complaints were informally resolved during 2023, a marked increase on 61 last year.

Informal resolution was not an appropriate way to handle every type of complaint about legal services or costs but, in the right circumstances, could be “a very effective and efficient way” for parties to work through their issues or disputes on an entirely voluntarily basis, he said.

The annual report provides a county-by-county breakdown of the 1,290 complaints received in 2023. Most 525 (41 per cent) were against legal practitioners based in county Dublin; 134 (10 per cent) in Cork; 61 (5 per cent) in Limerick; and 56 (4 per cent) in Kerry. Multiple complaints may be brought against an individual legal practitioner.

The report shows a steady increase in partnerships of solicitors seeking authorisation from the LSRA to operate as limited liability partnerships (LLP). Thirty six LLPs – including 20 in Co Dublin – were authorised in 2023, bringing the total number of LLPs to 482.

The LSRA maintains the roll – online register – of practising barristers entitled to provide legal services in the State. It reported 3,051 barristers were on the roll in late 2023, up 3 per cent on 2022, of whom 2,139 were members of the Law Library and 921 were practising outside the Law Library.

The LSRA is mainly funded by a levy on barristers and solicitors which in 2022 stood at almost €302 per Law Library barrister, €286 per barrister not a Law Library member and €414 per solicitor.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times