New Zealand Law Society - How your complaint is processed

How your complaint is processed

As a regulator of the legal profession, the Law Society receives concerns and complaints about lawyers, law firms, and law firm employees. Depending on the nature of the concern or complaint, our approach is to resolve or mediate where possible. Where resolution or mediation is not able to be achieved, complaints will be referred to an independent Standards Committee either an Early Resolution Service, or Standard Track committee.

  1. Receipt of complaint

    When a complaint is received it is acknowledged and checked to see that all required information has been included and that it is valid. It will be assessed to see whether the complaint is appropriate for our Early Resolution Service. 

    We will notify the lawyer about the complaint and call the parties to discuss next steps. The complaint and complainant details will be disclosed to lawyer.

  2. Complaint sent to Lawyers Standards Committee

    If the complaint is not suitable for the Early Resolution Service, it will be sent to a Standard Track Standards Committee for consideration. At the same time, a copy will be sent to the lawyer or firm being complained about. The lawyer or firm will be invited make a written submission to the Standards Committee.

  3. Lawyers Standards Committee considers complaint

    The Standards Committee has three options:

    • It may inquire into the complaint; or
    • It may ask the person who has made the complaint and the lawyer being complained about to consider resolving matters by negotiation, conciliation or mediation; or
    • It may decide to take no action.

    Lawyers who are subject to a complaint may continue to practice while the inquiry occurs. There is no power under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act for a lawyer to be suspended while an inquiry is carried out in relation to a complaint.    

  4. Lawyers Standards Committee makes decision after inquiry

    If a Standards Committee inquires into a complaint, it can determine that:

    • No further action is warranted; or
    • There has been unsatisfactory conduct on the part of the lawyer; or
    • The complaint is so serious that it should be referred to the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

    When a charge is filed in the Tribunal, a Standards Committee can make a request for an interim order to suspend the lawyer from practice. These orders are not made very often because it is a significant step for the Tribunal to prevent a lawyer from working before the case against them is able to be heard.

    Whatever determination a Standards Committee makes, the complainant will be informed of the decision and the reasons for it.

  5. Lawyers Standards Committee makes orders if unsatisfactory conduct finding is made

    If the Standards Committee decides that the lawyer’s conduct was unsatisfactory:

    • It may make an order formally confirming the terms of an agreed settlement resulting from negotiation, conciliation or mediation.
    • It may censure or reprimand the lawyer.
    • It may order the lawyer to:
      • Apologise to the complainant;
      • Pay the complainant compensation (up to a maximum of $25,000) for actual loss;
      • Reduce, cancel or refund some or all of the fees they charged the complainant;
      • Rectify any errors or omissions at his or her own expense;
      • Pay a fine of up to $15,000;
      • Pay the complainant for expenses incurred in making the complaint.

    The Standards Committee may make one or more of these orders in respect of any one finding. It can also make other orders aimed at improving the lawyer’s standard of practice.

  6. Review of a Lawyers Standards Committee decision

    If the complainant or a lawyer who is the subject of a complaint does not agree with a Standards Committee decision, they may ask the Legal Complaints Review Officer at the Ministry of Justice to review that decision.

    The Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO) can make any order a Standards Committee can make, including confirming or changing the Standards Committee’s decision. The LCRO can also refer a matter to the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal or back to the Standards Committee.

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