As a regulator of the legal profession, the Law Society receives complaints about lawyers, which will either be referred to an Early Resolution Service or an independent Standards Committee.
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 if it can be referred to the Early Resolution Service.
If the complaint is not suitable for the Early Resolution Service, it will be sent to a Standards Committee for consideration. At the same time, a copy will be sent to the lawyer being complained about and he or she will have the right to make a written submission to the Standards Committee.
The Standards Committee has three options:
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.
If a Standards Committee inquires into a complaint, it can determine that:
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.
If the Standards Committee decides that the lawyer’s conduct was unsatisfactory:
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.
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.