Complaints about misconduct made against solicitors by solicitors, barristers and other professionals have increased by a third in the past five years, it has emerged.
City law firm RPC said the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) received over 2,500 complaints of this kind last year, compared to 1,850 in 2011.
The firm said that during the same five-year period, the total number of misconduct reports remained static at around 10,900 a year.
RPC said that “rather than indicating worsening behaviour in the legal profession, the one-third rise may reflect an increasingly aggressive approach to litigation, with one legal team launching complaints against their opposition, often on the instruction of their clients”.
Common complaints included litigation behaviour, including delaying tactics, errors of fact – which could trigger claims of misleading the court but were “very unlikely” to rise to the level of misconduct – and “intemperate language”, where a “robust tone of correspondence” was perceived to be rude or threatening.
RPC said complaints were “often made at the request of clients who may misunderstand what constitutes misconduct, misconstrue the meaning or intention of the other party’s solicitor, or seek to exploit an opportunity for tactical advantage”.
Graham Reid, legal director of professional regulation at RPC, commented: “This is not about solicitors’ standards slipping. Litigation tactics are getting tougher. My experience is that more and more complaints appear to be filed in order to gain a tactical advantage in court cases.
“Major litigation can have millions of pounds at stake, and can be transformational for the businesses and individuals involved. That some might want to gain a small advantage through use of tougher tactics is understandable.
“However, it is questionable whether pursuing this tactic is actually a good idea for clients, especially if it increases their costs.
“Of course, solicitors remain under a conduct obligation to report to the SRA any serious misconduct on the part of another solicitor or firm. It’s not always easy to strike a balance between discharging this duty and client objectives.”