New Zealand Law Society - Penalising clients who make complaints “misguided”

Penalising clients who make complaints “misguided”

The principal of a law firm has been ordered to undergo training on his professional obligations after a Standards Committee determined that he had breached Rule 10 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008. The firm had a section in its terms of engagement entitled “Unjustified Complaints” which provided that it could charge a fee of $500 in the event of a client making a complaint that was not upheld by a Standards Committee or the Legal Complaints Review Officer.

The Committee noted that the lawyer had a professional responsibility to promote and maintain proper standards of professionalism and that included dealing with complaints in a professional manner, even ones he considered unjustified.

“The fact that a complaint may ultimately be dismissed, does not mean it was not “justified” from the client’s perspective. Clients must be free to raise their concerns with their lawyer and make a complaint if they consider it is warranted” said the Committee.

Seeking to penalise clients making complaints was considered by the Committee to be not acting in a professional manner, was “utterly misguided” and unsatisfactory conduct on the part of the lawyer.  In addition to the order for training the lawyer was asked to contribute $500 to the costs of the inquiry.