Ethics Hub

Scenario: You realise your complaints procedure isn’t compliant

You have recently joined a new firm. You are a regulated Costs Lawyer, but your firm is an unregulated organisation.

As you are getting up to speed with the new firm’s policies and procedures, you notice that their complaints procedure does not meet the requirements of the CLSB Handbook and guidance. Only a few minor adjustments would be needed to make the procedure compliant.

You raise this with the head of the firm and offer to update the complaints procedure accordingly. The head of firm tells you there is no need to make any adjustments, as the firm is not regulated by the CLSB.

What are your obligations in this situation?

  • Costs Lawyers are required to have effective procedures in place for the resolution of service and conduct complaints. Principle 3 of the Code of Conduct and the CLSB’s guidance notes on complaints procedures set out the key requirements.
  • Under the Code of Conduct, a Costs Lawyer must provide for an effective complaints procedure which is simple and transparent, ensures that a complaint can be made by any reasonable means, and takes into account the individual needs of clients (in particular the needs of vulnerable clients). They must ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly (within a maximum eight-week period from date of receipt) openly and fairly, and that appropriate provisions for redress exist. You must tell also clients about the right to escalate a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman or the CLSB both at the time of engagement and when any complaint is made, and provide contact details for those organisations.
  • If you do not already have one, your business will need to establish a complaints procedure that complies with these provisions as far as the work of the Costs Lawyer and any work that they supervise is concerned. In this scenario, you should alert your employer to your obligations under the CLSB Code of Conduct, including the requirement that you must have a compliant complaints procedure in place for your work even if you are working in an unregulated firm.
  • Employers should not create an environment where a Costs Lawyer cannot comply with their obligations, and should not penalise a Costs Lawyer for complying with them.
  • CLSB has no direct regulatory reach over unregulated employers. However, the more control a Costs Lawyer has over their unregulated employer (for example, if they are a director or partner) the more we will hold that Costs Lawyer responsible for ensuring that the unregulated employer puts in place procedures that enable Costs Lawyers who work for the business to comply with the CLSB Code of Conduct and their other regulatory obligations. Where the practices or arrangements of an unregulated employer conflict with the regulatory obligations of a Costs Lawyer, then if the Costs Lawyer is unable to resolve that conflict it is likely that they will need to leave their employment.
  • Principle 1.1 – You must act honestly and with integrity, not only in your professional life but also in your private life where your behaviour might reasonably be considered to undermine your adherence to the core ethical principles of the profession.
  • Principle 1.7 – You must not act in any way which is likely to diminish the trust the public places in you or in the profession of Costs Lawyers.
  • Principle 3.2 – You must provide for an effective complaints procedure for handling complaints from clients, covering issues relating to your professional conduct as well as the service you provide, in line with the CLSB’s guidance on complaints procedures.
  • Principle 3.3 – You must ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly (within a maximum eight week period from the date of receipt) openly and fairly and that appropriate provisions for redress exist.
  • Principle 3.4 – You must ensure that new clients are advised in writing when instructions are first received of:
    • an estimate of fees/details of charging structure and where that estimate subsequently becomes inaccurate or that charging structure changes provide an updated estimate/notice of revised charges;
    • the right to complain;
    • how to complain i.e. the complaints handling procedure that applies to the services you will provide; and
    • if applicable, the client’s right to refer their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman in certain circumstances.

See our Guidance Notes on the following topics in the Costs Lawyer Handbook:

  • Complaints Procedures
  • Unregulated Employers of Costs Lawyers
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