Personal injury solicitor returned €2,000 in costs to client after LSRA complaint about settlement

Personal injury solicitor returned €2,000 in costs to client after LSRA complaint about settlement

A personal injury solicitor returned €2,000 in legal costs to a client after she complained to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) that she did not know her costs would not be fully covered by her settlement with the defendant.

The complainant had settled a personal injury action for an agreed sum as well as a contribution towards her legal costs, but there was a shortfall of €2,000 in the amount of costs recovered from the defendant.

After receiving a bill for the shortfall, the complainant complained to the LSRA that the solicitor should have sought her consent before accepting a contribution towards the costs which meant that the complainant had to pay the remainder.

The complaint was determined to be admissible and was sent for informal resolution. The solicitor did not respond to the invitation to try to resolve the matter informally and the matter was therefore sent for determination by an LSRA complaints and resolution officer. The solicitor and the complainant were both asked to submit statements before a determination was made.

The solicitor ultimately offered to refund the complainant the €2,000 in costs charged, which resolved the complaint without the need for the LSRA to determine the matter.

The LSRA said: “A client’s fully informed consent should be obtained before settling the defendant’s contribution towards costs if you are seeking any shortfall from the client.

“Legal practitioners are reminded of their obligations to prepare a bill of costs in compliance with the requirements of S151(2) of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015. This should be one bill setting out the total costs including the amount of any legal costs recovered by the legal practitioner on behalf of the client from another party.”

The case is one of a number of case studies included in the LSRA’s latest complaints report, which covers the period from 4 September 2021 to 4 March 2022.

The LSRA’s complaints and resolutions unit received a total of 822 complaints in the period, of which 799 related to solicitors and 23 to barristers. Almost three-quarters (70 per cent) alleged misconduct, while 26 per cent concerned alleged inadequate standard of legal services and four per cent came under the category of alleged overcharging.

The main areas of legal services that attracted complaints were litigation, family law, probate and conveyancing.

A total of 811 complaints were closed during the reporting period, many of which were closed prior to a decision was made as to whether or not the complaint was admissible.

In total, 342 complaints (42 per cent) were closed pre-admissibility, with 225 resolved with the assistance of the LSRA, 90 withdrawn, 14 deferred and a further 13 unable to proceed for a variety of other reasons.

The remaining 469 complaints (58 per cent) were closed at or post-admissibility. Of these, 376 complaints were deemed inadmissible. A further 12 complaints were resolved in the informal resolution process with the help of the LSRA’s trained mediators; 36 were determined by the LSRA; and 46 were closed by the complaints committee.

The LSRA’s complaints staff made determinations in a total of 39 complaints of inadequate standard of legal services and excessive costs. Of these, 33 complaints were upheld and six were not upheld. In upheld complaints, the LSRA made directions for payments by legal practitioners of compensation to their clients of between €500 and €2,500.

The complaints committee, which hears misconduct complaints, closed 46 complaints during the reporting period. Of these, 12 were resolved by the parties; 29 were not upheld; one was referred to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (LPDT); three were withdrawn; and one was deferred as court proceedings had been issued.

Commenting on the report, Dr Brian Doherty, chief executive of the LSRA, said: “I am pleased to see an ongoing trend of a high number of complaints being resolved by legal practitioners and complainants through positive engagement early in the complaints process.

“This once again demonstrates that legal practitioners who are able to take a positive and proactive approach to resolving complaints can assist in having the matters dealt with in a timely and pragmatic manner. We are obliged to both legal practitioners and complainants who engage with the process in this way.”

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