Select a link below for more information about the OLSC complaint process.
How does the Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner (OLSC) deal with complaints?
Upon receipt of a complaint, the OLSC must make an initial assessment of whether the complaint is:
1. A consumer matter that may be capable of resolution; or
2. A complaint that raises issues of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct that may result in disciplinary action being taken against the solicitor or barrister involved.
The OLSC must then conduct a preliminary assessment of the complaint. Complaints raising disciplinary matters may be investigated. The investigation process is discussed below.
The OLSC may refer a complaint for investigation or resolution to the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Association.
What happens after my complaint is received?
Your complaint is assessed by senior staff at the OLSC and an initial assessment is made as to whether it is a consumer matter or a complaint that raises issues of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.
After an initial assessment has been made, an acknowledgment letter will be sent to you. Complaints may be referred to the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Assocaition if considered appropriate. In either case, a copy of your complaint is usually sent to the solicitor or barrister for their response to the issues raised in your complaint.
What happens if my complaint is treated as a consumer matter?
If your complaint is treated as a consumer matter, an OLSC staff member allocated to your complaint, in appropriate circumstances, will attempt to resolve your consumer matter through communication with you and negotiation with the lawyer.
How is my consumer matter resolved?
The OLSC can attempt resolution of consumer matters. Mediation & Investigation Officers at the OLSC are well trained and use a range of informal dispute resolution processes to resolve the majority of consumer matters received by the OLSC. Possible outcomes can include:
- Have documents or file transferred
- Receive an apology
- Resolve a dispute about fees
- Improve communication with the lawyer
- Resolve any other dispute with the lawyer
- The lawyer cautioned
- Apology from the lawyer
- Training, education, counselling or supervision be undertaken
- The work, the subject of the complaint, be redone at no cost or to waive or reduce the fees for the work
- A compensation order made
How long does it take to finalise a consumer matter?
The OLSC receives more than 2,500 written complaints each year. Of the complaints handled well over half are finalised within three (3) months but sometimes matters can take longer. There are many reasons for delays. Such reasons include:
What happens if my complaint raises conduct issues that warrant an investigation?
An investigation is conducted where a complaint raises serious issues with respect to a solicitor or a barrister's conduct where that conduct may be capable of amounting to unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct. In some cases investigations are referred to the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Association (professional associations). In such case, the OLSC will write to you advising that your complaint has been referred to the appropriate professional association for investigation. The balance of investigations are handled by the OLSC's Legal & Investigation Team.
What happens during an investigation?
The aim of the investigation process is to gather information and evidence so the Commissioner can form an opinion as to whether the solicitor or barrister has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct or if their conduct may amount to professional misconduct.
During an investigation the OLSC, or the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Association may require written information, documentation and/or submissions from the solicitor or barrister. The solicitor or barrister must cooperate and assist the OLSC and the professional associations in their investigation of the complaint. The submissions of the solicitor or barrister and complainant will usually be forwarded to each other for comment.
After completion of the investigation,
disciplinary action may be taken.
If the complaint cannot be resolved and there is not enough evidence for disciplinary action, the complaint must be closed and no further action taken.
What happens if my complaint is referred to the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Association for investigation?
Once your complaint is received by the Councils of the Law Society of NSW or the NSW Bar Association you should receive correspondence from them advising you of their file number and contact details. The LSC monitors all investigations by the Law Society Council and the Bar Council and each professional association provides the LSC with regular updates about the progress and outcome of complaints.
How long does it take to finalise an investigation?
Investigations generally take longer than consumer matters. In certain circumstances an investigation may take many months. The process is quicker and easier where the complainant provides full details of all relevant aspects of the complaint at the beginning and responds promptly to OLSC's inquiries. It is, however, important that the complainant only provides photocopies of relevant documents and never originals, unless specifically requested to.
Can the LSC award compensation? If so, is there a time limit?
Compensation will only be available through the complaint process in very limited circumstances.
A complainant who has suffered a loss because of a lawyer's conduct may request the LSC to make a compensation order.
The LSC can award compensation in limited circumstances up to a maximum sum of $25,000.00. Those circumstances are where the LSC is satisfied:
- That the complainant has suffered a direct loss as a result of the conduct complained of; and
- That the complainant has not received and is not entitled to compensation from another source (for example, from a court or from the Fidelity Fund); and
- It is just and fair to order compensation.
If disciplinary proceedings are commenced, the Disciplinary Tribunal has the power to make compensation orders.
The Disciplinary Tribunal may make a compensation order of up to $25,000 where:
- The solicitor or barrister is found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct;
- The complainant has suffered a loss as a result of that conduct,
- The complainant has not received or is not entitled to receive compensation from a court, or from the Fidelity Fund;
- It is just and fair to order compensation.
Awards of compensation by the Disciplinary Tribunal are relatively rare.
A request for compensation should be made in the original complaint and must be made in writing to the OLSC before the disposal of the complaint. The complainant will also need to describe and quantify the loss suffered.
Can I withdraw my complaint?
Yes. Requests for the withdrawal of a complaint should be made in writing to the OLSC or, if appropriate, the professional association to which the complaint was referred for investigation.
The OLSC and the professional associations have the power to investigate issues raised in the complaint even where the complainant has requested that the complaint be withdrawn. In other words, the OLSC and the professional associations are not obliged to comply with the request for withdrawal, they will continue to investigate matters where they involve issues of professional misconduct and it is in the public interest to continue the investigation.