FAQs for Complainants

Who can make a complaint?

Any person who has had concerns about the conduct of a lawyer can make a complaint. If you are making a complaint on behalf of another person, such as a relative or friend, you will need to tell us their name and your relationship to them and provide their authority in writing.  Please read Making a Complaint.

Who can the complaint be about?

Complaints can be made about the conduct of lawyers resident and practising in New South Wales.

What should I do before lodging a complaint?

The OLSC has an Inquiry Line to help and answer questions you may have about your complaint.

The OLSC recommends that you first try to resolve the dispute with your lawyer before contacting us. If you wish to make a formal complaint you can then call the Inquiry Line who can be contacted on toll free 1800 242 958 or (02) 9377 1800.  The Inquiry Line can provide you with information about the complaints process as well as information about any timeframes that may apply to your complaint. The Inquiry Line cannot provide you with legal advice and cannot contact the lawyer you are complaining about.

Is there a time limit on 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 you 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 you have provided a sufficient reason for the delay in making the complaint.

A copy of the complaint may be forwarded to the lawyer for submissions as to whether the NSW Legal Services Commissioner should accept the complaint out of time.

Is the information kept confidential?

Complaints made to the OLSC are kept confidential by the OLSC and mostly only those parties involved in the complaint are privy to the information. Sometimes information will need to be sought from other persons, lawyers or other entities or government bodies.

The complaint will usually be sent to the lawyer named in the complaint to give them an opportunity to respond.

Can I withdraw a complaint?

Yes. Requests for the withdrawal of a complaint should be made in writing to the OLSC or, if appropriate, the professional association to which the complaint was referred for assessment and possible investigation.

The OLSC and the professional associations have the power to investigate issues raised in the complaint even where the complainant has requested that the complaint be withdrawn. In other words, the OLSC and the professional associations are not obliged to comply with the request for withdrawal, they may continue to investigate matters where the conduct is capable of being unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct and it is in the public interest to continue the investigation.  Read LSC Initiated Complaints

Can I change the name of the lawyer I am complaining about once my complaint has been made?

If you made an error on the complaint form there may be an opportunity for you to change the name of the lawyer you are complaining about. However, if OLSC has begun to deal with the complaint you may need to lodge a new complaint about any other lawyer you wish to complain about.

Can I get compensation?

The NSW Legal Services Commissioner can award compensation in limited circumstances up to a maximum sum of $25,000.00. Those circumstances are where the NSW Legal Services Commissioner is satisfied:

  • That the lawyer or law practice provided legal services to the complainant
  • That the complainant has suffered a direct loss because of the conduct complained of
  • That the complainant has not received and is not entitled to compensation from another source (for example, from a court or from the Fidelity Fund)
  • It is in the interests of justice to order compensation

The Disciplinary Tribunal may make a compensation order of up to $25,000 where:

  • The lawyer is found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct
  • The complainant has suffered a loss because of that conduct
  • The complainant has not received or is not entitled to receive compensation from a court, or from the Fidelity Fund
  • It is in the interests of justice to order compensation

How independent are you?

The OLSC is an independent statutory body. The decisions of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner about complaints are not subject to review by the Attorney General of New South Wales, the Secretary of the Department of Communities & Justice or Parliament.

The OLSC is funded by the Public Purpose Fund (PPF) and not from State Treasury or Commonwealth taxation revenue. The PPF is established from interest on law practices' trust accounts.

Each complaint or inquiry is dealt with entirely on its merits. Staff members are required to acknowledge any potential conflict of interest.

Can I get a quick answer from your inquiry line as to whether or not my lawyer is guilty of misconduct?

No. We can' t give you this advice as we would first need to receive your complaint in writing and give the lawyer a chance to respond to your allegations.

Can I get help with making a complaint and is it possible to arrange a personal interview to assist me with making my complaint?

Interviews with the Public Liaison Officer (PLO) can be organised with OLSC inquiry line staff. However, due to limited time and resources, interviews are generally only arranged for those who have difficulty reading or writing English or have some other problem that causes difficulty lodging a complaint. Interviews with the PLO are conducted over the phone. The PLO cannot provide you with legal advice and merely acts as a scribe to assist you to put your complaint in writing. The PLO cannot assist you once the complaint has been lodged.

Do you provide interpreters?

Telephone interpreters can be arranged if necessary. You can request an interpreter when speaking with the Inquiry Line or with your Case Officer if you have lodged your complaint.

Does it cost anything to make a complaint?

There is no charge to make a complaint to the OLSC.

Can a lawyer charge me for the time it takes them to respond to the OLSC about my complaint?

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

What will happen to my lawyer and my case if I make a complaint?

There should be no adverse effect for you or your case if you make a complaint to the OLSC about your lawyer.

However, lodging a complaint with us can alter your relationship with your lawyer - especially when you are in the middle of your matter. There have been times when lawyers have stopped acting for clients who have complained - while their matter is in progress - on the grounds they believed the client had lost confidence in them. We have no power to compel a lawyer to keep acting for you.

Actions by this Office cannot and do not influence Court proceedings or the outcomes of Court proceedings.

Can I make a complaint anonymously?

Formal complaints cannot be made anonymously as the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) requires the complainant to be identified. If you have concerns regarding the lawyer being notified of your complaint, you can discuss these with our staff.

Informal reports about inappropriate conduct of a personal nature (workplace bullying, sexual harassment, harassment and discrimination) can be made anonymously. Informal reports do not constitute formal complaints and cannot be made about consumer issues (for instance, concerns about a lawyers’ costs or services). For more information read Informal Reporting.

How long does it take from the time I lodge a complaint to the time I find out whether or not my lawyer will be disciplined or when my complaint will be resolved?

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

Your complaint 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 and 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 usually take six to twelve months to finalise, but sometimes much longer. 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 sides.

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

What is the difference between negligence and issues of misconduct?

A lawyer has a duty to provide professional services with reasonable care and skill. A lawyer who fails to do this may have breached their duty of care to a client and have been negligent. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) - Occupational Division and superior Courts have determined that negligence is a form of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct only when it goes beyond "mere carelessness" or "mere negligence".

The dividing line between "mere negligence" or "mere carelessness" and misconduct is not clear. However, in OLSC'S experience, very few complaints of negligence amount to professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct.  The NSW Legal Services Commissioner has limited power to order payment of monetary compensation, up to $25,000. However, complainants who want compensation from a lawyer usually have to take private legal action against the lawyer for professional negligence. Lawyers are required to hold professional indemnity insurance to meet such claims.

Further information can be found on the OLSC Fact Sheet on Negligence.

I think my lawyer has overcharged me, what can I do?

The OLSC can assist the parties in attempting to resolve a costs dispute. If the dispute cannot be resolved, the NSW Legal Services Commissioner has power, in appropriate cases, to make a determination about costs, including a binding determination specifying the amount payable, up to $18,550 from 1 July 2023.

Further information can be found on the OLSC Fact Sheets on Costs Disputes and Costs Dispute Resolution 

What is a lien?

A lien is a lawyer' s right to keep any property lodged with the lawyer until a client has paid all their fees and relevant expenses (disbursements).

Lawyers can claim a lien over documents and property a client gave them while they were representing the client (in this or any other matter), including things for which a client has paid. They can also claim a lien over money they are holding on a client’s behalf.

Lawyers can' t claim a lien over title deeds for property, once the property has passed to another owner.

Files or documents can be released from a lien when the client pays outstanding costs.

The NSW Legal Services Commissioner can discharge a lien in respect of specified documents but cannot order the documents to be delivered up. Lawyers can be ordered to deliver up documents by the Supreme Court.

Further information can be found on the OLSC Fact Sheet on Liens

Why can't I always get everything from my file?

Most documents in a file belong to the client but some belong to the lawyer. Ownership depends on when the document came into existence and for what purpose.

Documents that the lawyer prepared for their own use and for which a client is not expected to pay, belong to the lawyer. Examples of this include notes taken in conference to aid a lawyer' s memory.

A lawyer must return documents to which a client is entitled or keep them for seven years unless otherwise instructed by the client.

Further information can be found on the OLSC Fact Sheet on File Ownership

My lawyer pressured me into settling and I regret it.  What can I do?

Settlement decisions are final unless an appeal to the Court is possible.

A lawyer should not apply undue pressure on a client to settle. A lawyer cannot make the final decision to settle. It is the client who decides whether or not to settle or to pursue court action. However, if a client chooses to go against the advice of their lawyer, the lawyer may decide not to continue acting for the client.

There are certain things that a lawyer must consider when advising a client about settlement.

Accepting a settlement offer can sometimes be advantageous because it reduces legal costs that would be incurred if the case went to hearing and it can take the risk out of a case, enabling a client to see exactly how much they will receive after legal costs and disbursements are paid.

Sometimes it is not in a client’s interests to settle, for example when the amount being offered is too small.

A lawyer advises a client to settle or not based on the strengths of their case, the risks a client faces if the case goes to hearing and the range of damages the court is likely to award the client. A lawyer is obliged to fully inform the client of their opinion. Clients may feel pressured by a lawyer making efforts to make their opinions known. Sometimes people regret their decision to settle a matter in hindsight. Please be aware that the OLSC cannot revisit or change settlement agreements and cannot give legal advice.

Further information can be found on the OLSC Fact Sheet on Settlement

If I have a complaint about a judge or a magistrate, where do I go?

If you have a complaint about a judicial officer such as a Judge or Associate Judge of the Supreme Court, a Judge of the Land and Environment Court, or District Court, or a Magistrate of the Local Court, you will need to contact the Judicial Commission of NSW.

If I have a complaint about a licensed conveyancer, where do I go?

Complaints about licensed conveyancers who are not lawyers should be referred to NSW Fair Trading.

If your complaint is about a lawyer who acted on a conveyance, you should contact the OLSC.

If I have a complaint about a Migration Agent, where do I go?

Complaints about migration agents who are not lawyers should be referred to the Office of the Migrations Agents Registration Authority. If your complaint is about a lawyer who acted as a migration agent you should contact the OLSC.

Last updated:

06 Dec 2023

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