Scots take flak over hostile complaints culture

Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman Garry Watson has expressed concern at solicitors' hostility or overly casual attitude when told the Law Society of Scotland is investigating a complaint against them.

In his annual report to Scotland's Secretary of State, Watson says most solicitors were anxious to resolve problems as quickly as possible, but some became aggressive and saw it as an affront to their professional reputation. He adds that these solicitors resent that the society saw the complaint as worthy of investigation.

“I am continually taken aback by the number of cases I see where the solicitors complained against are hostile or casual in the face of a conduct complaint being intimated to them,” he says in the report.

“It is perhaps understandable that there can be an element of 'sparring' given the adversarial nature of many of the services provided by the profession, but there appears to be an underlying culture which can bring out the worst in some solicitors when faced with a complaint.”

He says this leads to some lawyers not co-operating with investigation procedures, by not answering correspondence or forwarding client files.

In his report, Watson calls on the Law Society to address the problem and ensure lawyers understood its statutory duty to investigate complaints.

Scots society president Alan Boyd said it was natural to become defensive when made the focus of a complaint. “Solicitors are human and in some cases you get that reaction.”

He said very few lawyers did not co-operate with investigations and added: “I do not see this as a major problem.

“The council will consider carefully what the ombudsmen said and will continue to bring to the attention of solicitors that it is our statutory obligation to investigate complaints.”