Clients with unrealistic expectations, complaints about legal costs and dissatisfaction with results achieved are just a few of the issues addressed in the recent report from the Legal Ombudsman of the United Kingdom, The Price of Separation: Divorce related legal complaints and their causes. While the concerns raised are not new to most lawyers in family practice, the Ombudsman takes a solution-focused approach that makes this report a valuable manual on client services in family law.
The report is based upon complaints received by the Legal Ombudsman's office in 2011-12, of which some 18% related to family law matters. It is interesting to note that of those complaints, in the most recent six-month period reported, in excess of 25% were directly related to costs and billing issues.
Included with the report are a guide for clients in family law matters that could be a useful tool in helping to manage client expectations, as well as a guide for lawyers on how to better manage costs (and therefore, risk) in family law files.
The conclusions of the report are simple:
For the lawyer, more work could be done to reduce complaints about cost. Giving proper estimates, updating customers regularly on costs, encouraging customers to manage costs better themselves, ensuring that they put the interests of a customer first: all these are vital to avoiding complaints.
Following this basic advice will surely reduce the risk that family law clients will make complaints to the law society or file claims against their lawyers.