Avoiding Complaints

The Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner (OLSC) takes an active role in working with lawyers to resolve consumer complaints.  The Law Society of NSW Legal Regulation Department has a team of ethics, regulatory compliance and costs solicitors to provide confidential, prompt and reasoned information, guidance and assistance to the legal profession to comply with their obligations imposed under legal profession legislation.

Does the OLSC encourage complainants to resolve their concerns with their lawyer?

The OLSC encourages complainants to attempt to resolve their concerns directly with lawyers as a first step.

Often, complaints arise due to miscommunication or when clients feel that their lawyer is unresponsive or unapproachable. If this occurs, the OLSC may suggest the complainant attempt to resolve the matter directly with their lawyer first. This presents the lawyer with a further opportunity to resolve the issue with the client directly, for example, by explaining an unavoidable delay or by clarifying cost items that the client has not understood.

How can a lawyer minimise complaints about their practice?

It is important to keep up to date and be prepared to incorporate change into business processes in order to minimise the likelihood of a complaint.  Some common areas to consider to improve and enhance legal services include:

  • Effective record keeping and file notes
  • Use checklists for active files and, conflict of interest checks for new matter files
  • Regular communication can assist lawyers to understand the client's values and priorities and provide the client with what they see as high quality legal services in accordance with their instructions
  • Manage clients' expectations through regular communication - explain any delays, changes to processes, or increases in costs, and scope of works
  • Respond promptly to client queries and concerns
  • Ensure all calls to your law practice are responded to politely and professionally
  • Make costs disclosure (as required under the Uniform Law). A clear costs disclosure process can assist lawyers to avoid disputes over the payment of accounts

Taking a proactive approach towards clients’ complaints and focusing on a resolution of any concerns raised will help alleviate any issues raised by clients and translate any potential grievances into actionable insights instead of complaints to the OLSC.

How does the OLSC assist lawyers in resolving costs disputes and consumer matters?

The OLSC attempts to resolve complaints containing a costs dispute and/or and consumer matter (as defined in section 269 of the Uniform Law through informal resolution processes. Success depends on both the client and the lawyer being willing to cooperate in finding a satisfactory solution to the problem. When the lawyer accepts that there is value in reaching some agreement with the complainant, outcomes might include:

  • The reduction of an account
  • A plan for payment by instalments
  • A timetable for action
  • Work performed without charge
  • An explanation of what has taken place
  • An apology from the lawyer or the client
  • Commitment by the client to a particular course of action

The longer term outcome can be client satisfaction and improvements in the lawyer's client management system.  In appropriate cases, the NSW Legal Services Commissioner can make a determination in a consumer matter.   Please refer to section 290 of the Uniform Law.

Reliance on technology

Law practices are increasingly reliant on technology to assist with case management, information management and other administrative activities. You should aim to utilise technology to improve practices such as administration, communication and recordkeeping.

All technology practices need to be underpinned by robust business practices. However, technology should never get in the way nor become an excuse for poor client service. If a system goes down, its failure cannot be used as an excuse for compromising client service.

Ensure you have an appropriate recordkeeping system and supporting procedures to deal with information and transactions when offline.

Last updated:

04 Dec 2023

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