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Making a complaint about a solicitor

The Law Society of New South Wales has a statutory obligation to maintain and improve the professional standards of the legal profession and to protect the public from inadequate advice and representation. These obligations are fulfilled in various ways – through education, investigation, intervention and support.

Through its co-regulatory role with the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner, The Law Society of New South Wales investigates complaints against solicitors, unqualified practitioners and associates of legal practice.

The Law Society of New South Wales ensures solicitors are ‘fit and proper’ persons for legal practice and undertakes litigation for complaints referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) and the Courts.

Who may complain?

Any person can make a complaint about a solicitor. There need not be any formal relationship between the solicitor and the complainant.

How is a complaint made?

All complaints about solicitors must be made to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner.

The complaint must:

  • be made in writing (but not email) within three years of the date on which the conduct complained about occurred
  • identify the complainant
  • identify the individual against whom the complaint is made, and
  • describe the alleged conduct that is the subject of the complaint.

The Commissioner has the discretion to accept a complaint about conduct that occurred more than three years ago if judged to be just and fair to do so. This will depend on the circumstances of each complaint.

What type of conduct can be complained about?

There are three types of conduct that can give rise to a complaint:

  • professional misconduct
  • unsatisfactory professional conduct, and
  • consumer disputes.

NB. Making a complaint is not the proper way to obtain an independent assessment of a solicitor's costs, although overcharging may be a conduct issue that is properly the subject of a complaint. Also see the document Your right to challenge legal costs.

What is professional misconduct?

The term ‘professional misconduct’ covers a broad range of acts and circumstances and is the most serious charge a solicitor can face as a member of the profession. Examples may include:

  • failing to abide by professional obligations
  • contravening the Legal Profession Act 2004 and the associated rules
  • dishonesty
  • charging excessive costs
  • being found guilty of a serious offence or tax offence
  • insolvency

What is unsatisfactory professional conduct?

This is the second most serious charge a solicitor can face. It generally involves a consistent or substantial failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence in the practise of law.

What is a consumer dispute?

Consumer disputes are disputes between a person and a solicitor about the conduct of a solicitor which does not involve an issue of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.

Can I be compensated?

If you have suffered loss because of the conduct of a solicitor you can make a request for a compensation order in your complaint. It is in your best interests to do this at the initial complaint stage.

A compensation order can request:

  • the solicitor repay their fees to you
  • the discharge of a lien, or
  • the solicitor pay you monetary compensation for the loss (limits and conditions apply).

For more detailed information download the Professional Standards Department's Complaints Process Information brochure.