FAQs for Lawyers

Why would a client make a complaint to the OLSC?

A client may make a complaint to the OLSC for a variety of reasons, including dissatisfaction with the legal services provided to them, legal fees charged, a lack of communication or excessive delays.

We encourage potential complainants to first try to resolve their concerns with their lawyer before making a complaint to the OLSC.

How will I know when a complaint has been made?

This OLSC will generally provide you with a copy of the complaint made about you. This may not be straight away as the OLSC may need to obtain further information from the complainant first. 

A complaint has been made about me what happens next?

The OLSC will conduct a preliminary assessment of the complaint. If further information is required, the OLSC will contact the complainant to obtain further information. If the complaint is a consumer matter/costs dispute, the OLSC will assist the parties to attempt to informally resolve the dispute. This is generally done via written correspondence where each party provides a response and may make an offer to resolve the dispute.

If the complaint cannot be informally resolved, the complaint will be referred to the NSW Legal Services Commissioner who will consider whether it is appropriate in the circumstances for any Orders to be made pursuant to section 290 or 292 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law. Prior to any determination being made you will be provided an opportunity to make submissions.

If the complaint is a disciplinary matter, and the OLSC decides to investigate the complaint, the OLSC will write to you requesting your response to assist with the investigation. Once the investigation has been completed, the NSW Legal Services Commissioner will consider whether to close the complaint or whether further action should be taken pursuant to section 299 of the Uniform Law or if disciplinary proceedings should be initiated in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Will I get a copy of the complaint?

Yes, in most instances the OLSC will provide you with a copy of the complaint. However, the OLSC may need to write to the complainant first to obtain further information about the complaint.

What should I include in my response to the complaint?

We recommend being as open and frank as possible when responding to the complaint. Sometimes the Case Officer will ask you to respond to a number of requests or to provide certain evidence to assist with the resolution/investigation of the complaint. If you are unsure about what information or how much information to provide, you can discuss those concerns with your Case Officer. It is preferable to communicate any concerns or queries in writing.

The OLSC is asking for confidential and/or privileged information? Is this allowed and will it remain confidential?

Pursuant to section 321 of the Uniform Law, if a client of a law practice makes a complaint about the law practice or a lawyer, the complainant is taken to have waived legal professional privilege, or the benefit of any duty of confidentiality, to enable the law practice or lawyer to disclose to the appropriate authorities any information necessary for investigating and dealing with the complaint.

However, if a complaint has been made about you by someone who was/is not your client, you should clearly indicate whether any information you provide is confidential/privileged so that it is not passed on to the complainant. If you have concerns over providing such information to this Office, you can raise those concerns with the Case Officer preferably in writing.

Will you provide my response to the complainant?

In most cases - yes. Particularly for consumer matters it is important that a copy of your response be provided to the complainant to assist with attempts at informal resolution of the dispute. 

Is there a time limit for the making of a complaint?

A complaint must be lodged within three (3) years of the conduct that is alleged to have occurred. However, the OLSC may deal with a complaint "out of time" if the NSW Legal Services Commissioner determines:

  1. It is just and fair to do so having regard to the delay and the reason for that delay; or
  2. .The complaint involves an allegation of professional misconduct and it is in the public interest to investigate the complaint.

Costs disputes must be lodged within 60 days after the legal costs become payable. If the complainant requested an itemised bill, the time limit is shortened to 30 days after compliance with that request. The NSW Legal Services Commissioner may agree to deal with a costs dispute if it is lodged within four months after the 60 or 30 day time limit and the complainant has provided a sufficient reason for the delay in making the complaint.

Can I charge the client for my response to their complaint?

No. We take the view that lawyers have an obligation to respond to the regulator. Any time spent talking to us or writing to us should not be charged to the client who has lodged the complaint.

How long does the complaint process and/or investigation take?

We take the first step on complaints within 3 to 6 weeks of receiving them.

Complaints will either be treated as a disciplinary matter or as a consumer matter, or as a mixed complaint. Complaints will be assessed as consumer matters when the complaint is made by a client, when it appears that a disciplinary outcome is unlikely and the matter may be capable of an informal resolution facilitated by the OLSC.

We aim to resolve consumer matter complaints within 3 to 6 months.  However, disciplinary matter investigations can be more complex and may take six to twelve months to finalise, but sometimes longer depending on the allegations being made and the material provided to the OLSC. If disciplinary proceedings are commenced, these may run for a year or longer.  We cannot guarantee a time frame or make a proper estimate until we have examined all the information from both the complainant and the lawyer.

If the complaint has been referred by the OLSC to the professional association (Law Society Council or the Bar Council) for investigation, the professional association attempts to conduct the investigation as expeditiously as possible. The OLSC is advised of the professional association' s determination of the complaint.

Will I be kept informed as to the progress of any investigation?

Yes, however during the complaints process there may be periods where you do not hear from the OLSC for a number of weeks or months. This is because the OLSC may be writing to the complainant to obtain their response/obtain further information, or the OLSC is considering any information that has been received in relation to the complaint. The OLSC will contact you should any further information be required. If the NSW Legal Services Commissioner is considering making a determination, you will be provided an opportunity to make submissions before any decision is made. If you would like an update regarding the status of the complaint you can always contact your Case Officer preferably in writing for an update.

What are the possible outcomes when the OLSC investigates a complaint?

The Uniform Law sets out in sections 290,292,299, and 300 the determinations available to the NSW Legal Services Commissioner. Section 290 of the Uniform Law outlines the determinations that can be made in a consumer matter, section 292 relates to binding determinations in costs disputes, and section 299 and section 300 relates to determinations and decisions for disciplinary matters.

Will you notify my employer about the complaint?

No. However sometimes it may be necessary for the OLSC to contact your law firm to assist in contacting you if you do not respond to the requests of the OLSC. Section 462 of the Uniform Law provides for certain circumstances in which the OLSC may disclose information to another person.

I am not the subject of a complaint but the OLSC has asked me for information about a complaint about another lawyer/law practice. Do I have to respond?

Lawyers in NSW have a duty to be open and frank in their dealings with the OLSC and the professional associations. You should not ignore the requests of the OLSC, or the professional associations. If you have concerns with any information that has been requested, you can discuss those concerns preferably in writing with the Case Officer.

Where can I seek professional and/or mental health support when a complaint has been made about me?

The Professional Conduct Advisory Panel (PCAP) provides support to solicitors who are or may be subject to disciplinary proceedings including complaints, show cause events and trust accounting issues. The assistance is confidential and independent of the regulatory authorities.

Last updated:

06 Dec 2023

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