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Reflections from the Complaints Commission

17 February 14

The first of a new series from the SLCC provides an update on trends in conveyancing complaints

by David Buchanan-Cook

In a recent article (Journal, December 2013, 22), I referred to the SLCC’s published analysis of five years’ worth of legal complaints data. One of the conclusions drawn from that analysis was that residential conveyancing attracts more legal complaints than any other area of law. In fact, one in every five complaints which we have received since we opened for business on 1 October 2008 has been about a conveyancing transaction.

In response to that, we have this month launched a guide to help prospective clients avoid some of the most common pitfalls that can lead to complaints against conveyancing practitioners. The guide, Buying or selling your home – a guide for legal consumers, the first in a series specifically written for the users of legal services, is now available for download from the SLCC’s website www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk

Many of the suggestions in the guide will be familiar to readers, and will appear to be not only common sense but also common practice. However, our complaints data tell us that this is not always the case, and, despite the downturn in the housing market, conveyancing remains a high risk area in terms of complaints about inadequate service. With increasing pressures on profit margins, and recognising the time that dealing with a complaint can take, conveyancing is an area where practitioners might well want to focus their attention in terms of complaint avoidance.

To reach a better understanding of the underlying nature of conveyancing complaints, we have carried out detailed analysis of our data.

Typical residential conveyancing complaint v average complaint

This indicates rather interestingly that conveyancing complaints are far less likely to be about fees or costs than the average complaint. This is probably due to the wider use of fixed fees in this area of work. They are also marginally less likely to be about delay.

The areas where a conveyancing complaint is more likely to occur are around ineffective communication, the provision of inadequate advice or a failure to provide information. Clients therefore are not complaining about technical issues or hiccups in the process. The main driver appears to be communication shortcomings which, we would suggest, are more easily avoided.

Last month, the Legal Ombudsman – the body responsible for dealing with legal service complaints in England & Wales – published research on the business case for good complaints handling in legal services. That research, carried out by Economic Insight, suggests that good complaint handling could increase the operational profit of a firm by between 2% and 3%.

In our view, taking steps to avoid complaints in the first place will reap even greater economic benefits and must, therefore, make even better business sense.


Oversight is the area of the SLCC responsible for overseeing how the professional bodies deal with conduct complaints; monitoring and reporting trends in complaints; and producing guidance and best practice notes on complaint handling.

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