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Complaints process

The Law Society of NSW strives to ensure that solicitors across the state are able to deliver services to the public that are of the highest professional and ethical standard.

The Professional Standards Department investigates complaints referred to it by the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner.

Complaints involving consumer disputes are referred for attempts at resolution or mediation.

The Law Society’s Professional Conduct Committee considers and makes determinations on those complaints that involve more serious or complex conduct issues.

What does the Commissioner do?

Once a complaint is lodged with the Legal Services Commissioner, the Commissioner may:

  • investigate the complaint
  • mediate the complaint
  • refer it to the Law Society Council for investigation or resolution, or
  • dismiss it.

More information can be found on the Complaint process section on the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner’s website.

When does the Law Society investigate a complaint?

If a complaint raises issues with respect to a practitioner's conduct, the Commissioner may investigate the matter, or may refer the complaint to the Law Society for investigation.

If the Commissioner requests investigation by the Law Society, the Law Society’s Professional Standards Department will assign an investigator to the case.

If a complaint is referred, both the solicitor and the complainant receive notification from the Law Society and regular updates about the progress of the complaint.

What happens after the Professional Standards Department’s investigation?

Once the investigation is complete the investigator will report the facts and evidence of the case to the Law Society’s Professional Conduct Committee.

Can the complaint be resolved through negotiation or mediation?

Yes, when a complaint is referred to the Professional Standards Department for investigation, the Department investigator will consider whether the matter can be resolved without the need for the lengthy and costly investigation.

A number of factors are taken into consideration when deciding if this is the most appropriate action to take.

For further details see the Professional Standards Department's Complaints Process Information Brochure.

How does the investigation process work?

The Professional Standards Department investigators must ascertain whether support for the statements of the complainant and the solicitor exists, and if so, obtain those supporting documents or statements from the complainant, solicitor or other witnesses.

Once the investigation is complete the investigator will report the facts and evidence of the case to the Law Society’s Professional Conduct Committee.

What does the Professional Conduct Committee do?

The Committee must form a view as to whether there is a 'reasonable likelihood' that the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, Legal Services Division will find the practitioner has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct, on the evidence that can be presented to the Tribunal.

The Committee will review each case and make a decision. The Committee can decide:

  • to request further investigation
  • to dismiss the case against the solicitor
  • that the solicitor has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct, or
  • that the solicitor has engaged in professional misconduct.

How are solicitors disciplined?

If the Committee finds that the solicitor has engaged in professional misconduct it must refer the case to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) as this is a serious charge.

If the Committee decides that the solicitor has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct, the Committee may:

  • caution the solicitor
  • reprimand the solicitor
  • make a compensation order, if you have requested it,
  • impose a condition on the solicitor's practising certificate, or
  • refer the solicitor to the ADT for a determination about the complaint.

What if the complainant does not agree with the Committee's decision?

The complainant can apply to the Legal Services Commissioner if they do not agree with the Committee’s decision to dismiss, caution or reprimand the solicitor, or if they don’t agree with the compensation ordered. The application to the Commissioner must be made in writing within two months of receiving notification of the Committee’s decision.

What can the Commissioner decide about the complainant's review?

After a review the Commissioner can:

  • confirm the decision of the Law Society, in whole or in part
  • direct the Law Society to reinvestigate the complaint
  • reinvestigate the complaint itself
  • refer the matter to mediation
  • refer the complaint to the ADT for hearing
  • caution or reprimand the solicitor
  • make a compensation order.

More information about how to apply for a review and the review process can be found on the Reviewing investigations section of the Commissioner’s website.

When may the solicitor seek a review of the Committee’s decision?

A solicitor may apply to the ADT for a review of the Committee’s decision to reprimand or make a compensation order.

What happens in the ADT?

If the complaint reaches this stage, the Committee will act on behalf of the complainant because it is responsible for regulating standards in the legal profession.

If the ADT finds the solicitor not guilty, the disciplinary application and complaint is dismissed.

If the ADT finds the solicitor guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct it can impose penalties on the solicitor, such as:

  • a reprimand
  • a fine
  • a requirement that the solicitor undertake further legal education
  • a restriction on the kind of work that the solicitor may perform
  • suspension or cancellation of the solicitor’s practising certificate, or
  • removal of the solicitor’s name from the Roll of Lawyers.

What if the complainant does not agree with the ADT’s decision?

The complainant can appeal a determination from the ADT to the Supreme Court of NSW but only in regards to a claim for compensation that was considered by the ADT.

For more detailed information about the making and determination of complaints about solicitors, download the Complaints Process Information Brochure.

 

 

 

CONTACT

  • Professional Standards Department
  • Law Society of NSW
  • 170 Phillip Street
  • Sydney NSW 2000
  • DX 362 Sydney
  • T: (02) 9926 0390
  • F: (02) 9221 5804
  • E: psd@lawsociety.com.au