This section expands on complaints and discipline and to discusses concerns particular to members. If you are a lawyer who has a complaint filed against you or who is considering filing a complaint against another lawyer, please also read our Complaints page for instructions and a description of our complaints procedures from start to finish.
Obligation to File a Complaint
Lawyers are reminded they have a DUTY to file a complaint and report cases where it is reasonable to expect that a person has suffered or may suffer damage or loss due to another lawyer’s breach of conduct.
When a lawyer files a complaint against another lawyer, either on his or her own behalf or on behalf of a client, the process we follow is the same as when a complaint is filed by a member of the public.
Duty to Self-Report
The Society’s right to self-govern requires transparency and accountability, and is an effective means to regulate lawyers and the practice of law in the public interest. This requires vigilance not only on the part of the Society, but also by lawyers themselves. The Legal Profession Act and Regulations, as well as the Code of Professional Conduct, create obligations for lawyers to self-report certain matters, or to report serious concerns of professional misconduct by another lawyer.
Duty to Report Offences, Bankruptcies or Judgments
Regulations 63 and 82 of the Legal Profession Act requires that a member report to the Society judgements, proposals to creditors, assignments in bankruptcy and situations where an order for costs is made against a member personally. Regulation 63 also requires that a member report any matter where the member has been found guilty of a criminal offence or has been subjected to a penalty under any legislation governing the legal profession in another jurisdiction in Canada.
Duty to Report Misconduct of Another Lawyer
Rule 7.1-3 of the Code of Professional Conduct require that a member report to the Society serious violations of the rules of ethics, including misappropriation of trust funds, abandonment of a law practice, and conduct that raises a substantial question as to another lawyer’s trustworthiness or competence as a lawyer. It is often the case that such conduct may lead to more serious violations and harm to the public in the future. Thus it is critical to public protection, the effective administration of justice and the reputation of the legal profession that concerns about any such serious misconduct are brought to the Society’s attention immediately for further investigation. Early intervention permits the Society to investigate concerns, provide support to a lawyer where appropriate, or take steps to protect the public as soon as possible.
From time to time, members self-report breaches and/or other errors to the Society even though a complaint has not been filed by another person. The Secretary-Treasurer will acknowledge receipt of the report and advise if an investigation will be required or not.
Duty to Respond to the Law Society
Lawyers have a duty to respond to their law society within the deadlines provided (usually 2 weeks).
Not All Complaints Are Investigated
The Law Society does not investigate complaints about lawyers’ bills or potential negligence. Such matters are dealt with through the Prothonotary’s Office or the lawyer’s insurer (CLIA). If the matter does not merit investigation, the matter is not a formal complaint and the member will not be contacted by the Society. However, the Secretary-Treasurer may require the lawyer to file a Professional Liability Claim Report if the matter discloses a potential negligence claim.
The Response Itself
Once a member’s reply to a complaint is received by the Law Society, it is normally copied and provided to the complainant.
Failure to Respond
Failure to respond may be considered professional misconduct. Members who have been asked to reply to the Law Society but who cannot reply on or before the deadline must communicate with the Secretary-Treasurer’s office.
Are Complaints Public?
Inquiries by the Law Society are not made public, nor are complaints investigations while being conducted by the Secretary-Treasurer or by the Investigation Committees. Complaints only become public if they are referred to the Discipline Committee and charges are laid. Sanctions imposed by the Investigation Committee are not made public unless they involve a practice restriction—the public will be notified of any current practice restriction or condition.
Complaints that are public (i.e. that have been referred to the Discipline Committee) are listed for the public on the website and the ultimate determination will be made available on the website.
Impact on Mobility
Pursuant to Canada’s National Mobility Agreement, members with an ongoing discipline case or a discipline history are not eligible to practise in another Canadian jurisdiction without requesting permission from or giving notice to the law society of the host jurisdiction. Every member’s mobility status is public and we are required to disclose it when requested. This is true in every case: in cases where a member is not eligible for mobility, we must disclose that the member is not eligible even if the reason why is not public.
Tips on Responding to Complaints
If you receive a request for a written response to a complaint, the following tips may be helpful.
Deal with the Issues
Make sure your actual explanation to the complaint does not get lost in the shuffle. Meet the issues/questions head on and do not try to obscure the facts. Related circumstances can be relevant and supporting documentation will often be helpful, but try to refrain from sending a bundle of “self -explanatory enclosures” with no narrative outlining your explanation to the concerns which have been raised. Often the complainant will outline what he or she sees as a resolution and in the appropriate circumstance, you may be able to resolve matters by carrying out those suggestions.
No personal attacks
Do not attack the complainant for exercising his or her right to complain. It is tempting to overreact and get on the defensive. A calm rational response can often assist in resolving the complaint. Remember that your response will be forwarded to the complainant and personal complaints will only exacerbate a difficult situation. As well, your duty to be courteous extents to situations in which you are responding to a letter of complaint, no matter how unfounded or ill advised you may consider the complaint to be. You should avoid making extraneous comments which are not relevant to the issues raised in the complaint but are made for the sole purpose of discrediting the complainant.
If your conduct falls short in quality of service complaints, admit it. Apologies go a long way in resolving some complaints.
If you have a legitimate reason for not being able to respond to a letter of complaint within 14 days, it will usually be possible to arrange for a reasonable extension of time if the matter is not urgent or very serious in nature. You should contact the Secretary-Treasurer to discuss your extension request well in advance of the deadline.
If You Still Have Questions
Members with questions or concerns are invited to communicate with us. We cannot give advice with respect to specific situations, nor can we answer hypothetical questions of ethics, but we will attempt to help locate the relevant legislation that may provide an answer or give whatever assistance we are able to provide.