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Change of solicitor requests

The procedures to be followed when a client or a solicitor seeks to change solicitors are designed to secure fairness and consistency in decision making.

The general principles and procedures to be applied when dealing with a request for a change of solicitor, at the request of the solicitor or of the client, are set out below.

A solicitor requests a change of solicitor

Solicitors are required to obtain approval from the Board in accordance with the following principles and procedures:-

  • each request is dealt with on its own merits, and in writing;
  • once it is established that the request is a reasonable one, the Board will authorise and make provisions for
  • a change of solicitor;
  • there should be a minimum of inconvenience to the client;
  • any request for a change must be referred to the managing solicitor;
  • in the case of the managing solicitor, or a member of the solicitors panel, the request must be made to the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate;
  • if the request is granted, the matter must, unless there are exceptional circumstances, be handled within the law centre;
  • smaller centres may operate a twinning arrangement;
  • where the request relates to a member of the solicitors panel, the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager will inform Legal Services of the decision so as the applicant may be referred back to the panel to retain a new solicitor and Legal Services may take any other action that is appropriate in the circumstances
  • solicitors are reminded that in cases involving an abusive or aggressive client, the appropriate course of action may be to seek the withdrawal of legal services rather than seek a change of solicitor, solicitors are further reminded that in such cases the procedures set on in the Administrative Procedures Handbook should be strictly observed and the appropriate warning letter sent to the client regarding her/his unreasonable behaviour
  • if the managing solicitor grants the request, the client should be informed and be given an opportunity to seek a review of the decision and/or to appeal the decision to an appeal committee
  • if the managing solicitor rejects the request and the requesting solicitor does not agree with the decision, the requesting solicitor may seek a review of the decision by the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate
  • if the request for a change of solicitor relates directly to the managing solicitor, the decision will be made in the first instance by  the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate
  • if the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate, grants the request, the client should be informed and be given an opportunity to seek a review of the decision and/or to appeal the decision to an appeal committee
  • if the request is granted, the change of solicitor must nevertheless, unless there are exceptional circumstances, be handled within the law centre
  • if the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate rejects the request and the managing solicitor does not agree with the decision, the managing solicitor may seek a review of the decision by the Chief Executive.

As these requests relate to service provision to the client, they should be treated differently than a complaint. Where the request relates to a solicitor in the law centre then the request should be directed to the managing solicitor.

Where the request relates to a managing solicitor or to a member of a solicitors panel then the request should be directed to the Regional Manager/Director of Civil Legal Aid, as appropriate.

In the case of private solicitors and solicitors in law centres, efforts should be made to resolve the matter by accommodating the request, unless there are compelling reasons not to accommodate it.

If a client requests a change of solicitor on grounds of difficulties or breakdown in the solicitor/client relationship, a conflict of interest and/or any other reasonable grounds, the client should be facilitated with a change of solicitor, subject to a decision on any additional expenses that might arise. If it is considered that the request is on account of matters such as the quality of the legal advice offered; the professional competence of the solicitor; the personal integrity of the solicitor then, in those instances, the solicitor should be contacted to see if she/he has any objection to the request being accommodated on a strictly without prejudice basis and without any formal investigation/findings in relation to the matters alleged by the client.

In cases where the request for a change is sought by the client on account of matters such as poor communication; lack of courtesy; rudeness or other bad behaviour towards the client; the quality of the legal advice offered by the solicitor; the professional competence of the solicitor; the personal integrity of the solicitor then these, by their very nature, may be viewed as complaints against the solicitor involved.

All requests for a change of solicitor should be copied to a complaints officer and the request shall be logged as a potential complaint. The managing solicitor/Regional Manager, as appropriate, shall decide whether the issues raised should be processed under the complaints procedure above. If that is the case then the complaints officer will be notified and the matter changed from a potential complaint to a complaint.

Procedure 7.5 – Dealing with a change of solicitor request

  1. The request must be in writing, stating the grounds upon which the request is being made. In the law centre upload the request to the client’s EOS file. Where the request relates to a member of the solicitors panel, a complaints officer will record the request and refer it to the Director of Civil Legal Aid /Regional Manager.
  2. In EOS, open the case, click on the Submissions tab and click on “Create New Submission”.
  3. Select the following:
    1. Submission Type: Submission for Change of Solicitor
    2. Type of Proceedings, Court, and Litigation Options: As appropriate to the individual case
    3. Statement of Facts: The solicitor should outline the grounds in the request and their response to same.  When preparing this statement the solicitor should be mindful that it will be available to the client; Where the request relates a member of the solicitors panel, the complaints officer should simply refer to the applicant’s letter on the Documents tab.
    4. Recommendation: Either Grant or Refuse as appropriate
    5. Decision Maker: If the request relates to the managing solicitor, choose “Director of Civil Legal Aid” or “Regional Manager”. If it relates to any other solicitor choose “Managing Solicitor”.
    6. Documents: Choose the written request you scanned earlier
    7. Status: To Be Submitted
    8. When finished, click “Make New Submission”
  4. Requests by a client for a change of solicitor will be copied to a complaints officer. If the managing solicitor/Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, as appropriate, considers that the nature of the request is such that it may constitute a complaint, then the Board’s formal complaints procedure will be invoked.
  5. If the managing solicitor/Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager grants the request, the case is passed on to the next nominated solicitor and the provision of services continues as normal, subject to any conditions that may be imposed when granting a request for a change of solicitor. The matter should be closed once confirmation has been received that the client has been given a new appointment
  6. If the managing solicitor/Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager refuses the request, the client should be informed by letter, copied to the nominated solicitor, setting out the reasons why the request is refused. If the request is refused then the solicitor with conduct of the matter continues to provide legal services to the client. The client should be informed of his/her right to seek a review/appeal in relation to this decision. The client should be offered an opportunity to seek a review of the decision and given the opportunity to furnish any additional information not previously considered. In relation to an appeal, this appeal is to an appeal committee of the Board. In the meantime, the client is entitled to continue to receive services from the solicitor having conduct of the matter.  A template letter setting out the decision which should be used is on the next page.

Where a request is made by a client to a staff member for a change of solicitor:-

  • where possible, the staff member should endeavour to route the request to the Managing Solicitor, after which the procedures outlined above should be followed;  and
  • if the request for a change of solicitor relates directly to the Managing Solicitor and the client does not wish to make a direct approach to the Managing Solicitor, the client should be asked to write directly to the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager. It should be made clear however that any client complaint / request for a change of solicitor will be passed to the solicitor with conduct of the matter for their observations.

Template letter refusing a change of solicitor

10th March 2015

 

Client Name: John Smith

Subject Matter:

Application for: Change of solicitor

 

 

Dear Mr Smith,

I refer to the application for a change of solicitor that you made on <<xxth month 20xx>>.

The material submitted in support of your application, <<and the observations that your solicitor has provided>> has been considered by the Board. The following decision has been made:

Having regard to section 31(4)(a) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 we are refusing to consent to the application to for a change of solicitor on the grounds that we do not consider it reasonable in all the circumstances to do so

Section 31(4)(a)  provides that:

“Where a person to whom the Board has decided to grant legal aid or advice has… accepted the nomination of a solicitor or selected a solicitor from the solicitors' panel.…the person may apply to the Board to have the services of that solicitor …dispensed with and the services of another solicitor of the Board or solicitor from the solicitors' panel….obtained in the matter and where the Board considers it reasonable in all the circumstances, it may consent to the application.”

The reasons why we do not consider it reasonable in all the circumstances to consent to the application are as follows <<outline all relevant reasons>>.

Your options

You have the option to request a review this decision. A review means that you can submit further information and ask that the decision be re-considered in the light of such new information. A request for a review must be submitted within one month of when you receive this letter.  I will notify you of the outcome of the review after the review has been completed.

You may also appeal the decision to an appeal committee, which consists of members of the Board of the Legal Aid Board. They will consider your appeal and take a decision, which will usually be either to confirm the decision, or they may overturn this decision and grant the change of solicitor. The Committee have wide powers and are not confined to either of these approaches. Usually, an appeal does not involve submitting any further information to the Board. However, if you ask for a review and submit further information, you will have a further month after we tell you the outcome of the review to appeal. I will notify you of the outcome of the appeal once I have received the decision from the Secretary to the Appeal Committee.

You should send your request for a review or appeal to me at the address at the top of this letter.

Yours sincerely,

____________
Jane Jones

<<Managing Solicitor/Regional Manager/Director of Civil Legal Aid>>