How to make a complaint against your lawyer

complaining-about-your-lawyer

If you have a problem with your lawyer, don’t be afraid to complain about your lawyer.
Many injured workers are  scared to complain when things go wrong and are confused, not only about their legal entitlements but also about the complaints system. In this article, we’ll run you through the process of how you can make a complaint against your (rogue) lawyer in Australia.

How to make a complaint against your lawyer

Have you ever had serious concerns with the way your lawyer has (or is) dealt with your case? For instance, do you believe your lawyer has been overcharging you? Or that s/he has not acted in our best interest? Is your lawyer rude, unprofessional, abusive, intimidating?

If so, have you ever thought of the possibility of lodging a formal complaint against your lawyer?

If you believe that your lawyer has performed unsatisfactorily under his professional duty, then you have the right to file a complaint against him/her. Provided below are details on the avenues available to lodge a complaint against your lawyer and how to go about the processes of lodging a formal complaint. There is a respected body that deals with the complaints against lawyers (aka legal practitioners) in each state and territory.

Note, before you do so, we do recommend you consider speaking with the managing director of the law firm as sometimes this can ‘fix the problem’ within hours.  However if your lawyer has or is conducting him/herself unconscionably, please file a formal complaint with the respected body in your state.

Who is a “legal practitioner”?

A legal practitioner can be a lawyer certified to work as a barrister or solicitor (lawyer). In some states, such as Queensland, a law-practicing employee also counts as a legal practitioner. The lawyers’ special responsibility is to give their best service to their client with professionalism, as well as their special duty to the court.

Where do I go to file a complaint against my legal practitioner?

Each state and territory has different legal institutions to investigate complaints filed against a legal practitioner. These institutions were created under statute and must treat each case in a fair and independent manner. All these statutory institutions undertake the same job and provide the same services to clients who want to lodge a complaint against their legal practitioner. Below is a list of the different institutions in each state and territory:

What would be my underlying reasons to file a complaint against my legal practitioner?

If you believe that your case falls within the scope of a “consumer dispute” or “conduct complaints” then you have reasons to complain against your legal practitioner.

For example, under the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW), “consumer disputes” may be in regards with delays, costs, poor communication or rudeness or a release of your documents or property (liens).

A “conduct complaint” is associated with “unsatisfactory professional conduct” or a “professional misconduct”, this could be a threatening or abusive behaviour, failure to comply with an undertaking, poor advice or representation, serious delay, non-disclosure of costs, minor breach of the Solicitor’s Rules or confidentiality.

A “professional misconduct” includes gross overcharging, conflicts of interest, acting contrary to instructions, misleading or dishonest conduct in or outside court and a misappropriation of trust money, conduct outside the law practice such as conviction of a serious criminal offence, a tax offence or an offence involving dishonesty or being qualified from managing or being involved in the management of a corporation.

Note that the statutory institutions are not able to deal with complaints against courts staff, judges or magistrates or complaints against paralegals, law clerks, and individuals practicing without a practicing certificate, or about migration agents and licensed conveyancers.

How can I file a complaint against my legal practitioner?

Every complaint is required to be firstly assessed by the respected institutions in the state or territory you are in.

If mediation between you and your legal practitioner is capable of resolution then this will be the first step that the institution will recommend to be done. This is a process where an officer from your institution will hear your side of the complaint and also hear your legal practitioner’s story in order to bring about a more practical solution where possible. This will be a confidential process, but if ever during the process, a more serious problem will occur the institution will investigate this further.

If your complaint is with regards to professional misconduct, disciplinary action has to be taken by the institutions and a serious “investigation” is required.

For an easier process, it is advisable that you call your respected institution’s Inquiry Lines (as provided above) to help and clarify questions you have about filing a complaint against your legal practitioner.

To lodge a formal complaint the complaints must be in writing and must be signed by you or a person on your behalf.

The name of the legal practitioner that you want to make a complaint against shall be written on your formal complaint.

Each institution also provides a complaint form that can be downloaded from each of their websites or alternatively a letter with the details of your complaint can be sent to the institution in your state or territory.

Any legal and relevant documents that you can provide to support your complaint must be photocopied. (If you are acting on behalf of another person you must write the name of the person filing the complaint on the formal written document.)

If upon completion of the investigation of your complaint the matter was found to be a serious matter, the institution will refer the matter to a more powerful legal service that deals with lawyer’s professionalism such as the Bar Association. In each investigation the legal practitioner being complained about will be given an opportunity to respond to such complaint.

Each state and territory has an online disciplinary registers database for the public’s reference, as required by the Legal Profession Act 2004. This is a list comprising of names of legal practitioners who have been given sanctions due to unprofessionalism. Below are the links to each state’s online disciplinary registers most recent listings.

discipinary-action-register-lawyer

Online disciplinary registers

For example, searching the register for Sammy Bektas shows the following:

sammy-bektas-legal-register

What other bodies help with the dispute?

In New South Wales, the Law Society of NSW and the Bar Association also decides on formal complaints that clients file against their legal practitioners. If a disciplinary action has to be taken the Law Society Councils of each state review the complaints against solicitors and the Bar Associations review the complaints against the barristers. They are professional bodies that decide on formal complaints that require an undertaking of disciplinary action.

What is a likely hardship that I will face during an investigation process?

A “Caesar against Caesar” notion has been attested when it comes to decision making made by the respected legal services that deals with complaints against legal practitioners. After your respected state’s legal services commission reviewed your case and requires a further investigation against the legal practitioner they will send the matters of complaint to a higher professional body. This could either be the Law Society for solicitors or the Bar Association for the barristers.

The infamous Dr. Haneef’s case is an exemplar of such a notion, wherein both his solicitor and barrister have been investigated at different times due to unethical conduct. They were both alleged of leaking substantial information related to the case. The President of the Bar Association stated that Dr. Haneef’s barrister was a regarded member of the Bar and was to be presumed with innocence as he had acted honestly and with the best intentions. The Bar Association’s President also went to further discuss that the Bar Association does deal with such unethical complaints impartially for the main interest of the public. This is one issue in regards with filing a complaint against a legal practitioner, as eventually it is their own respected body that deals with their own complaint. A notion of bias is usually imputed in such process, as Caesar will not fight against himself.

Is there a time limit for making a complaint?

You have three (3) years from the happening of the alleged conduct to file a complaint against your legal practitioner. However, “out of time” case can be an exception if the Legal Services determine that “it is just and fair to do so having regard to the delay and reasoning of such delay” or if the complaint “concerns professional misconduct and that it is in the interest of the public to investigate such complaint”.

Never be hesitant in filing a complaint against your legal practitioner if you truly feel that you have been given unprofessional conduct. There are avenues ready to give you a hand and guide you through the process of being heard and actually getting a solution to a legal issue. This is a matter of obtaining justice and your case does matter.

 

[Post by WCV3 and WCV and based on a paper written by Family Law Express ]

 



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13 Responses to “How to make a complaint against your lawyer”

  1. It’s not only your lawyer that can be complained about. The insurer lawyers take actions during their handling of matters that is well worth a complaint as well – eg misleading briefing outlines to IME’s, abuse of process (eg deliberate delay, withholding reports), cherry picking of reports to IME’s and calling them the “complete file”, misrepresenting information (eg assertions about work hours they know to be false yet state to be “fact”), misstating what an IME says, ignoring past decisions in your matter (ie issue estoppels), including reports to IME’s that have previously been rejected (and failing to tell the new IME that is the case), refusal to comply with requests for documents or notices to produce, etc, etc.

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    • @CGU Sucks – the only problem with those kind of complaints is that there is no real formal body to complain to as bad faith in workers comp insurance is not recognised in Australia (and deliberately excluded from all insurances who, by law, have to act in good faith). See for example the landmark case Garcia – v – CGU Workers Compensation (NSW) Limited .
      So, basically the only thing injured workers can do is complain about those dirty tactics to the workcover authority in their state, for example in Vic you can call the Worksafe Complaint service… But not much can be done about it, especially not in terms of punitive damages as is the case in civilised countries like Canada and the USA

      I am not sure in which state you reside, but your comment appears to originate from the USA. (This site talks about Australia)

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      • You can still report them
        To the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner, but be prepared to provide the evidence. They will act if the evidence is Strong and not just an assertion.

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    • @CorruptNSW – as mentioned in the article, A “Caesar against Caesar” notion has been attested when it comes to decision making made by the respected legal services that deals with complaints against legal practitioners… which is exactly the very problem you are highlighting. It is well known that the legal fraternity protects its own (unless there is a case of really very gross and repeated misconduct). The same applies to complaints to Health Service Commissions (or Medical Boards) about certain rude, hostile or extremely biased IMEs – again doctors protect their own, unless there is repeated gross misconduct (so it appears).
      Many injured sods have for example made formal complaints about hostile, unprofessional psych IMEs, well-known to be hired guns/medical prostitutes and who have for example prior convictions and/or evidence of bias in publishing material. Yet these psych IMEs will often add extreme insult to injury when replying to allegations of misconduct, simply by stating the injured sod who complained is “unstable” (to say it lightly). So it become his versus her word.
      In that respect we’re pretty pro (c)overt tape recording, even if in some states it is unlawful, or can’t be used as “evidence”. There is usually a way around it when it is in the interest of the person who recorded the session,… or in the public interest…

      Another tip: we never ever attend any legal or medical appointments alone.

      PS your link worked fine, even the first one – orange text = link inserted and when clicked takes you to the page you wanted. Thank for sharing this valuable resource. We’ll be adding it on the above article (page).
      Also thank you for your compliment – again it is people like you that keep an injured sod like me (and hence this site) going! Much appreciated!

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      Workcovervictim June 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm
      • Spoke to my solicitor yesterday about whether it is legal for my case manager to record phone calls without asking my permission. After a conversation with a case manager who was harassing me during the call she proudly announced she had recorded the call. She then went to her supervisor and complained I had yelled and harassed her. I then got reprimanded for doing so in a letter from her supervisor. I looked up the A…..z website to find they do state they may record calls for verification etc and if they do you can request a copy and they have to provide it. I did request a copy and guess what? It proves she harassed and raised her voice to me not the other way around!!!!!!
        I made a complaint and guess what? A….z management will not directly respond to what the CM did and are saying they investigated and the matter is finalized!! WTF!!!! Good evidence of how the insurer covers-up their own unethical behaviours!!!
        My solicitor advised it is LEGAL to record someone in NSW without them knowing but that such a recording cannot be used as evidence or published in any way, however you can use it as a means of reminding yourself of what was said in the conversation as long as you don’t provided it as an exact transcript or refer to the recording itself.
        This also has implications for those who have been videoed or recorded during an IME by certain IMEs perceived as bullies. If they recorded the session and this was the basis of their report than I would think, just as the handwritten notes of the assessor form part of the report (as a…..z advised me) then any recording, whether you did, or did not, give approval for should be provided to you if they have used any report based on the recording.

        There is also the matter of reports provided to the assessing doctor that have not been provided to you. Another injured worker asked for a copy of such a report and the insurer has refused to provide it to her even though they provided it to the doctor who made a gross misdiagnoses of her condition based on this statement from her employer!! Anyone know whether they can withhold such reports when they use the IME report to deny the claim?

        I urge all of you who have been to a crook IME who bullied or harassed you that you know or have good reason to suspect, recorded the examination to request a copy of the recording from the insurer. State –
        -you are requesting a copy of the recording to verify some aspects of the report from the IME/IPC/IMC etc
        -and, as the report was based on this recording it forms part of the report they have provided you therefore you are entitled to a copy of the recording
        -if there is a policy on your insurer’s website about the requirement to provide you a copy of matters recorded then remind them of this.

        If you IME/IMC/IPC or case manager bullied you and you get the recording then use it to support complaints to the HCCC (NSW), Medical Board etc, the insurer, WorCover etc if it supports what you are saying.You should have your solicitor listen to any recording before you use it as they can use it against you once they give it to you. In saying that one would assume anyone who goes to an assessment is honest and does not shoot themselves in the foot by overacting etc!! It is imperative that you do remember any act to mislead or provide false information during an assessment or otherwise in WC matters can and does lead to harsh penalties for injured workers but sadly, not so harsh penalties for insurers or crook assessors etc!!!

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        How many other ways can they FU! June 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm
        • I requested a copy of a report my physio wrote to CM, I wasn’t able to get a copy until I had to see Medical Panel, I requested a copy of all reports I didn’t already have a copy of and they were happy to provide them. This meant when I went for my appointment, I advised them of the incorrectness and they investigated and found in my favour. CM still doesn’t recognise this though as Medical Panel was for Impairment???
          Lawyer says it will all come out in the wash but I’m starting to doubt this.

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  2. I think that you the Victorian example you have provided is enough without having to name the lawyer personally – show a little bit of decency and blur the name, he has been handed his penalty – it’s time to leave him alone

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    JustASuggestion June 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm
    • @JustASuggestion – Well, perhaps you should read the articles related to this man, as he had the guts to serve aworkcovervictimsdiary with a “defamation” lawsuit, after several injured workers expressed extreme concern with billing (and other) practices. He also disclosed publicly (on our site) personal and confidential information about the case of an injured worker who dared to express concern (without ‘defaming’ this man). Obviously this lawsuit threat does not sit right with us, the editors and founder of this humble blog, as we’re here to help address any concerns and difficulties injured workers may have with workcover, their claims, incl. legal matters. An apology would have been welcome, especially given we responded to this man’s gross and unfounded accusations. But, saying that we will take your suggestion on board and leave him alone from now on.

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      • I had read the articles prior to my comment. My intention was not to have a go at you or the site, I understand and admire the dedication you have in assisting those who have been injured and need help. I am also grateful that you have taken my comment on board, thank you

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        JustASuggestion June 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm