Depressing tally of complaints

The annual report of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors for 1997/98 makes depressing reading.

In the past five years, the number of complaints averaged 22,764 each year. With 8,764 firms, that was about 2.6 complaints per firm per annum.

However, the OSS estimates that there will be 30,000 new complaints this year.

That increases the average to 3.4 per firm per annum. As most firms never receive a complaint at all, there must be some firms receiving a considerable number.

With just 236 disciplinary cases brought against solicitors, only 1 per cent of complaints result in disciplinary action.

In a period of 16 months, the compensation fund made grants worth u17.4m in nearly 2,300 cases, an average of u5,600 per case.

Bearing in mind that the fund only pays out in respect of dishonesty, this means that there were 2,300 acts of dishonesty for which compensation has been paid.

Whereas complaints of poor service can result in a solicitor being ordered to pay compensation of up to u1,000, the average compensation payment in 1997 was u353 which fell to u337 in 1998.

None of this can give the general public much confidence in its dealing with solicitors.

Enormous improvements need to be made in order to restore public confidence.

CJA Cope, Cope's High Wycombe

Your editorial (3 May) claiming law firms will find their business "swept from under them" by the accountants is somewhat ill-informed.

Clients do not choose their lawyers for reasons of convenience or a desire for a "one-stop shop" (to use that awful phrase).

Instead client-lawyer relationships are built up over years and are based on trust and the lawyers' understanding of a company's business.

Discerning clients understand this and will not be easily attracted by lawyers bolted on to accountants, even if the Law Society does allow MDPs as KPMG hopes it will.

Stephen Butcher

London N16