Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Legal executives

Legal executives

A legal executive can do all the work a solicitor can do. A legal executive's work is divided into 2 categories: 'contentious' and 'non-contentious'. Contentious work involves dealing with a dispute where a court claim has started. Non-contentious work is done before a court case has begun. It also includes other legal work such as conveyancing or drafting a will.

All legal executives must be registered with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, which ensures that they follow professional codes of conduct and work in a competent manner.

Types of complaints

Poor service

Poor service is a broad concept. It's likely to happen when a legal executive has:

  • Failed to give you a final bill
  • Caused unreasonable delays
  • Managed your case unprofessionally
  • Not done what you instructed them to do
  • Given you inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Failed to give you enough information about their charges before they started your case
  • Failed to reply to your correspondence or phone calls or keep you updated on your case

Excessive bills

When you take on a legal executive, they must, from the beginning, clearly explain their costs, when they're likely to change and any other payments you may be liable to pay.

The legal executive must also tell you about the options available to pay their costs, like an insurance policy or public funding (legal aid).

If the matter your legal executive is dealing with is about a possible or current dispute, the legal executive must tell you if the potential outcomes are likely to justify the expense or risk involved. This includes any risk of having to pay someone else's legal fees.

They should keep regularly informed of the amount of costs, particularly if the legal executive is doing contentious work. They should tell you if the costs are likely to increase.

Their bill should contain enough information for you to understand the work they've done and what you're being charged for.

If you're unhappy with your bill, you should initially complain to the legal executive.

A court can check bills for both contentious and non-contentious work (this is called an 'assessment'). There are rules about when you can use this procedure, and you can find out more about this from the Legal Ombudsman.

If you a have a complaint about a bill for non-contentious work that is linked to poor service, you can ask the Legal Ombudsman to review it if the legal executive couldn't resolve the complaint. Bills for contentious work can only be assessed by the court.


Negligence is when your legal executive has either failed to work to the same standard that a reasonably competent legal executive would, or has acted in a way that a legal executive wouldn't in the circumstances.

Professional misconduct

All legal executives must act according to their professional code of conduct. If your legal executive doesn't abide by this code, they may have committed professional misconduct. For example, if your legal executive does one of the following acts, they'll generally be guilty of professional misconduct:

  • Keeping money that belongs to you without your consent
  • Releasing confidential information about you without your consent
  • Acting for a client whose interests clash with yours, without your consent
  • Discriminating against you because of your race, religion, sex, sexuality, disability or age

For more information about professional standards, see CILEX Regulation.

How to complain

Initial letter of complaint

Before complaining, you should first raise your complaint in writing with the legal executive, or the person responsible for complaints at the law firm that the legal executive works for.

Law firms must tell you whether they have a complaints procedure, and must give you a free written copy of it. They must also tell you that you have the right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman.

Within 7 days of receiving the complaint, the law firm must let you know that they've received your complaint. They must send a full response within 28 days from the day you made the complaint and keep you informed throughout.

After you've sent your letter, you should give them at least 8 weeks to respond.

Their response should state what they can do to resolve your complaint, such as:

  • A written apology
  • The removal of your legal executive from the case
  • Corrective action to be taken in relation to your case
  • A total refund or reduction of your bill, or a reasonable amount of financial compensation

However, if you don't receive a response after 8 weeks, or you're not happy with the response, you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman.

Legal Ombudsman

The Legal Ombudsman is responsible for dealing with complaints about poor service that clients receive from legal executives. It can award up to £50,000 if the poor service has caused you loss.

It doesn't deal with complaints about professional misconduct.

See the Legal Ombudsman website for more information.

Chartered Institute of Legal Executives

For more information about making a complaint about professional misconduct, see the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

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