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House Doctor: 'We are about to exchange but our solicitor is useless. Can we fire him?'

Question: We have a nightmare solicitor firm that's seriously messing up our house sale. They've mislaid documents, failed to work properly with the solicitors of at least two potential buyers, never get back to us when we call, and are constantly rude. Is there any course to recompense? And should we see it through or get a new solicitor for our ongoing house sale?

Gray Rowlands, Teesside

Answer: Squaring up to solicitors can be a struggle. The most up-to-date full-year official figures show that some 15,069 complaints about rotten legal service were made in 2009 and about a fifth of all complaints turned on poor solicitor/conveyancer handling of house purchases or sales.

You've a sound case for a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman (www.legalombudsman.org.uk) but first work out what to do with your solicitor in the short term.

If you can afford it, you could wash your hands of them and terminate your agreement by simply paying their outstanding bill. Alternatively, you'll have to stay the course and hope for a speedy conclusion.

Whatever course you choose, wait until they're no longer your solicitor before you start your complaint process against them. Don't go straight to the Ombudsman, though; there's a standard set of steps to take before you take it to the top.

First make an official complaint directly to the legal firm by letter or email – make sure you include details, chronologically, of where (and when) their service failed.

A designated partner will usually manage complaints but if this isn't the case, contact a senior partner and ask them to get involved.

Request that the solicitor write back to explain how they intend to deal with your complaint and by when; as a general rule, eight weeks is more than enough time to respond. The solicitor may offer to settle privately, perhaps by chopping 25 per cent off your original bill, but it'll more likely give you short shrift. When this happens, call in the Legal Ombudsman.