What to do if you receive a complaint

Any complaint made about a lawyer, whether justified or not, provides an opportunity to improve a professional relationship. By responding to the complaint constructively and promptly the lawyer can regain and reinforce the client's confidence and loyalty but also learn how to work with other clients better.

How should a lawyer respond when a complaint is made?

The OLSC assumes that a complaint is an indication that there is a problem from the complainant's perspective, not that the lawyer has necessarily acted inappropriately. There is therefore no need for lawyers to be defensive when contacted by the OLSC. On the contrary, it is in their best interests to overcome the natural urge to ignore the issue or deny the problem in the hope that it will go away.

What are the best practice methods for dealing with complaints

The OLSC suggests the following best practice methods for lawyers when dealing with complaints:

  • Establish practice management systems to ensure  you and your employees provide timely and fulsome responses  to queries and complaints
  • When notified by the OLSC that a client has made a complaint about the legal services provided, take appropriate steps to resolve the client's concerns with the assistance of the OLSC
  • Be flexible in negotiating the resolution of a costs dispute or consumer matter
  • Co-operate with the OLSC in finding ways to address the client's concerns rather than giving clients further grounds for grievance
  • Don't freeze - doing nothing will only make things worse. Seek advice if you are uncertain how to respond
  • Use the experience of the complaint process to develop new strategies for establishing and maintaining effective client relationships and practice management systems

What should a lawyer do if issued with a section 371 Notice?

The NSW Legal Services Commissioner may issue a notice under section 371 of the  Uniform Law requiring a lawyer to provide information or produce documents.  A lawyer must respond to a section 371 Notice. Failure to respond to a section 371 Notice is capable of being unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct and may result in a complaint being initiated by the NSW Legal Services Commissioner for non-compliance and obstructing/misleading an investigation. This can be unnecessarily expensive and stressful as well as time consuming for all parties.

What happens if allegations of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct are substantiated?

Allegations of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct are investigated by the OLSC or referred to the Councils of the Law Society of New South Wales or the New South Wales Bar Association. If the allegations are substantiated, disciplinary action may be taken against the lawyer by the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, Law Society Council or Bar Council.  Alternatively, disciplinary proceedings may be commenced.in the Occupational Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

What should a lawyer do if referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) - Occupational Division?

A solicitor whose conduct has been referred to the Tribunal may seek assistance and legal advice from  the Law Society of New South Wales Professional Conduct Advisory Panel.

What should a lawyer do once a complaint has been finalised?

After a complaint has been finalised, the lawyer and other members of the law practice should review the policies and procedures implemented within the law practice. In addition, lawyers should use feedback from clients to help identify the perceived strengths and any shortcomings of the practice. This can form the basis of a program of continuous improvement which will reduce the likelihood of further complaints.

Last updated:

04 Dec 2023

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