Solicitors among pandemic-era cybercrime victims - regulator

Legal Services Regulatory Authority warns about bank details amid surge in complaints

There was a 33 per cent increase in complaints about solicitors and barristers received by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority in the six months to late March.

There was a 33 per cent increase in complaints about solicitors and barristers received by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority in the six months to late March.

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A solicitor’s client lost a “substantial” amount of money when the client transferred money to be used in a property transaction to a fraudster’s bank account, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has said in a report.

The client was in the process of buying property when they received an email purporting to be from their solicitor and advising them that the solicitor had opened a new bank account, to which they were asked to transfer the funds.

The client then transferred the money to the bogus account that had been set up by the fraudster.

The pandemic has led to an increase in cybercrime and among those being targeted are solicitors and their clients, the LSRA warned, adding that bank account details should not be shared by email.

There was a 33 per cent increase in the number of complaints about solicitors and barristers received by the LSRA in the six months to late March, when compared to the previous six-month period, according to the regulator’s latest report on complaints.

It received 805 complaints in the period from early September of last year, to late March of this year, according to the report. There were 783 complaints relating to solicitors and 22 to barristers, reflecting the higher number of solicitors and their greater level of contact with consumers.

Inadequate legal services

More than half of the complaints alleged misconduct, while more than a third alleged inadequate legal services. Seven per cent alleged overcharging.

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

While the number of complaints had increased significantly during the period, the LSRA chief executive, Brian Doherty said, “the nature of the complaints we received and the emerging themes have remained quite consistent”.

The authority continues to receive high volumes of complaints to do with the administration of estates. “Failure to communicate remains a significant feature of most complaints,” he said.

“ In misconduct cases, this relates primarily to legal practitioners not responding promptly or at all to communications from fellow legal practitioners.

“The LSRA will frequently not be in a position to resolve what on investigation is actually found to be a longstanding family dispute.”

In an example given in the report, a complaint against a solicitor which alleged delay had to do with the estate of the complainant’s father, which was being administered by the complainant’s elderly mother.

Misconduct complaints

The pandemic and the fact that the administrator was housebound and sometimes slow to give instructions were delaying the sale of farm land, the authority was told.

A total of 31 complaints about solicitors were investigated by the independent complaints committee set up in November 2020 to hear misconduct complaints.

The committee upheld two complaints, while five were not upheld, and one was withdrawn. Others remain under consideration.

The LSRA received 44 complaints and notifications of concerns relating to the online advertising of legal services by solicitors.

Three were written to and notified of possible breaches of the advertising regulations, and all resolved the issue by withdrawing or amending their ads.

Solicitors are not allowed advertise “no foal no fee” arrangements or free initial consultations, and must put their names on advertisements.