If You Have a Problem with a Lawyer (No. 436)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Steven Gjukich, Gilchrist & Company in March 2018.|
If you have concerns about a lawyer, you can make a complaint to the BC Law Society. Learn how to make a complaint and what to expect from the process.
- 1 Understand your legal rights
- 2 Deal with the problem
- 3 Get help
Understand your legal rights
You can complain about a lawyer’s conduct
The Law Society of BC regulates lawyers in British Columbia. Under the Legal Profession Act, its duty is to protect the public interest. It does this by making sure lawyers:
- are licensed and insured to practice law
- meet standards of competence to help clients with their legal issues
- follow rules of conduct set by the Law Society about how to behave professionally
The Law Society also protects the public interest by responding to complaints about lawyers.
The Law Society is not able to help with every type of complaint. They usually deal with complaints about a lawyer who didn't do their job properly or behaved unprofessionally. The Law Society cannot (for example) control what a lawyer does in your case or change the decision of a court.
If the Law Society investigates and finds conduct that was concerning or improper, they can order the lawyer to take remedial steps, fine the lawyer, or suspend them from practising law. The Law Society cannot pay you money or order a lawyer to pay you money.
We explain the steps in making a complaint shortly.
If you have a problem with your lawyer’s bill
The Law Society of BC does not regulate lawyers' fees. If you have a disagreement with your lawyer over the amount of their fees, filing a complaint with the Law Society will not resolve that dispute. There are other steps you can take, however. You can try a free mediation program offered by the Law Society to help you and your lawyer reach a settlement. Or you can ask the court to review your lawyer’s bill to ensure the fees are reasonable. We explain these options in our information on lawyers' fees (no. 438).
Deal with the problem
Step 1. Discuss the problem with your lawyer
When clients have problems with their lawyer, it often involves a lack of communication. If the problem is with your lawyer, start by discussing your concerns directly with the lawyer. You may be able to solve the problem by talking things through. If you have trouble talking about the problem, put it in writing, and send an email or letter. If you don’t understand the lawyer’s response, ask for them to explain in simpler language.
Step 2. Make a complaint to the Law Society of BC
If talking with your lawyer doesn’t solve the problem, or you are concerned about the conduct of a lawyer acting for someone else, you can make a complaint to the Law Society of BC.
You can submit your complaint online at lawsociety.bc.ca, or print off a complaint form and mail, fax or email it to the Law Society. There is no fee to make a complaint.
In your complaint, describe your connection with the lawyer. Give a brief description of the problem and provide copies of any relevant documents.
The complaint is assessed
The Law Society first assesses whether to investigate the complaint. For example, they look at whether they have the authority to do something, and whether the information provided is substantial enough.
If the Law Society investigates, the lawyer may be required to provide a response to the concerns, or the lawyer’s file may be reviewed. The Law Society may conduct interviews.
The result of an investigation
After investigating, the Law Society can:
- close the complaint, if they find it is not supported or serious enough,
- if there are concerns about the lawyer’s competency, refer the lawyer to a standards committee for remedial measures to improve their practice, or
- if there are concerns the lawyer broke rules, refer the lawyer to a discipline committee.
If the complaint is referred to a discipline committee, they will consider the complaint. They can send the lawyer a warning (called a “conduct letter”), hold a “conduct meeting” or “conduct review” to discuss the lawyer’s conduct, or issue a citation. A citation is issued in serious cases, and results in a public hearing. A citation may result in the lawyer being fined, suspended or disbarred (meaning the lawyer cannot work as a lawyer).
If there is a discipline hearing, it is between the Law Society and the lawyer. You are not a party.
Step 3. Seek a review
If you are unhappy with a Law Society decision about your complaint or if you think the Law Society's process was unfair, you have options. You may be able to seek a review of the decision or, if you think the process was unfair, you can seek assistance from the provincial ombudsperson.
Review of the decision
If your complaint against a lawyer was dismissed, you can ask for a review of the decision by the Law Society's Complainants' Review Committee. You must complete a request form and send it to the Law Society within 30 days after receiving the decision on your complaint. For details, see the Law Society’s website at lawsociety.bc.ca.
If you feel the Law Society's process was unfair, you can contact the Office of the Ombudsperson, an independent body that handles complaints about provincial public authorities. Visit bcombudsperson.ca.
With more information
The Law Society of BC provides information on making a complaint about a lawyer.
- Telephone: 604-669-2533 in the Lower Mainland
- Toll-free: 1-800-903-5300
- Web: lawsociety.bc.ca
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