The Complaints Process: How it Works

One of the Law Society's most important duties is responding to complaints about lawyers and paralegals. We also respond to information about illegal practitioners who are providing legal services. Our complaints process is principled and balanced so that we can continue to protect the public interest while treating everyone involved fairly at all times.

We review and consider every complaint we receive, although we may not take action on all of them.

In deciding how to respond to your complaint we consider a number of things, including whether the lawyer or paralegal you are complaining about is a risk to the public.

We also try to resolve issues about the services provided by lawyers and paralegals, such as a failure to respond to communications or to report on a transaction.

Where possible we will try to help you and the lawyer or paralegal deal with the issues. Most issues are resolved without a formal discipline hearing. We investigate when necessary and take disciplinary action in appropriate cases.

Judicial and tribunal complaints

Information is available for members of the judiciary and tribunal adjudicators/staff who wish to file a complaint about a lawyer or paralegal, or complaints about unauthorized practice or the unauthorized provision of legal services.

Receiving and assessing complaints

The Complaints Services department (in our Client Service Centre) is the first point of contact for complainants. Complaints Services will acknowledge your complaint and provide you with a file number.

The Law Society can deal with a range of matters related to lawyers' and paralegals' professional conduct. For example, we can deal with issues relating to service; ethics or honesty; communications (including failure to reply to communications or to report on a transaction); delay; misleading, rude and discriminatory behaviour; or failure to account for, or the improper handling of, money.

If you have lost money because of a lawyer's or paralegal's dishonesty, you may be eligible to apply to the Compensation Fund. Please see the Compensation Fund page for more information.

The Law Society will respond to information about unlicensed practitioners who are providing legal services. You may provide this information on the Complaint Form. Refer to Illegal Practitioners for additional information.

Many complaints raise issues that are outside our jurisdiction. We may refer you to the Assessment Office of the Superior Court of Justice, to the police, to other regulatory authorities, or suggest that you seek advice from another lawyer or paralegal. In addition to making a complaint to the Law Society you may also wish to explore the availability of other options, such as the civil and/or criminal justice system. If you believe that the lawyer's or paralegal's conduct may constitute a criminal offence, please consider reporting it to the police. For more information, you may also wish to read the Law Society's process for reporting to law enforcement and other regulators.

With a few very limited exceptions, we will not investigate complaints that are received more than three years from either the date of the issue you are complaining about (or the date you learned about it).  

If your complaint is within our jurisdiction and raises issues of professional conduct, Complaints Services directs the matter to the Intake Department of the Professional Regulation Division.

Resolving complaints early

Many of the complaints we receive involve problems with communication. These cases can often be resolved at an early stage, by the Complaints Services or Intake departments.

In appropriate cases, we will contact you and the lawyer or paralegal to explore opportunities for resolving the complaint. Early resolution can help repair relationships between you and the lawyer or paralegal, and is generally less time-consuming than a formal investigation.

Investigations under the Law Society Act

The Law Society may conduct an investigation under section 49.3 of the Law Society Act if we receive information suggesting that a lawyer or paralegal may have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a licensee, or may be incapacitated. 

Staff members in our Intake Department review each complaint as it comes into the Professional Regulation Division and identify whether a lawyer or paralegal:

  • May have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a lawyer or paralegal.
  • Lacks the capacity to meet any of his or her obligations as a lawyer or paralegal.

They may ask you to provide specific information to support the allegations in your complaint.

If the evidence in your complaint and supporting information do not raise a reasonable suspicion of one of the situations detailed above, the file will be closed.

We may also close a file because the issues raised in your complaint are not of regulatory concern to the Law Society and a further investigation won't help resolve them. Typically, we will also close a complaint if you fail to provide documents or information to support the allegations. 

We may also close the complaint or defer further investigation for other reasons (for example, if the allegations are the subject of concurrent criminal, civil or other regulatory proceedings).

Otherwise, the Law Society may conduct further investigation under section 49.3(2) or (4) of the Law Society Act. These investigations are conducted by both the Complaints Resolution Department and the Investigations Department.

Further information about the process

If your complaint is directed to the Professional Regulation Division, a Law Society staff member will contact you.

We receive information from different sources and at different times. You should provide supporting information with your complaint, but you may also be asked for other documents and information from Professional Regulation staff. 

You are expected to help the Law Society by providing all documents and information when we ask for them. Once a complaint file has been closed, we will not consider additional documents, information or allegations about the lawyer or paralegal where the issues should have been raised in your original complaint (unless the information is new, or was unknown or unavailable to you during the investigation, and it is in the public interest to consider it).  

Confidentiality

Complaints and investigations are confidential unless the Law Society has begun discipline proceedings. Section 49.12 of the Law Society Act restricts our ability to share information obtained as a result of the investigation with you and with the lawyer or paralegal you are complaining about.  Confidentiality continues to be required even after the complaint has been addressed (without discipline proceedings). 

Please note that, in fairness to the lawyer or paralegal you are complaining about, the Law Society will share with that lawyer or paralegal some or all of the information and documents you send us.    

Outcomes

As mentioned above, if the evidence against a lawyer or paralegal does not warrant further regulatory proceedings, the file will be closed.

In other instances, a complaint file will be closed after a discussion with or letter from Law Society staff about the lawyer or paralegal's conduct.

In either case, you and the lawyer or paralegal will receive a letter from the Law Society to tell you that the file is closed. The letter will explain our reasons for closing it.   

Reviews of closed complaints

If you are dissatisfied when Complaints Resolution or Investigations staff members close your complaint, you can ask the Complaints Resolution Commissioner to review the outcome.

This is not a right of appeal but, rather, a review of whether we acted reasonably in closing the file. The lawyer or paralegal will not participate in this review.

The Commissioner may recommend that we take further action on the complaint.  If we agree to take further action, you and the lawyer or paralegal will be notified.

The jurisdiction of the Complaints Resolution Commissioner and the complaints review process is found in the Law Society Act and Law Society By-Law 11.

A review by the Complaints Resolution Commissioner is not available for complaints that are closed in the Complaints Services or Intake departments.