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Complaints against lawyers continue to show decline

03 August 2017

Complaints lodged with the Lawyers Complaints Service against lawyers have fallen each year for the last three years. Provisional information from the New Zealand Law Society’s Lawyers Complaints Service for the year to 30 June 2017 shows that 93.7% of complaints lodged were against practising lawyers. Complaints against lawyers were down 2.3% on the previous year, while all complaints were down by 2.8%. Of all complaints received, 68% were against men and 32% were against women.

Resolution of complaints by Lawyers Complaints Service

Since 2013, all complaints when received have been assigned to one of two processes. If assigned to the standard track process, a complaint is copied to the lawyer and the lawyer’s response is copied to the complainant. The complaint is then considered by a lawyers standards committee. This will make a decision after further investigation if seen as necessary.

The Early Resolution Service (ERS) was established in 2013 to introduce a faster and more flexible resolution process for complaints considered less serious. A triage system is used by the lawyers complaints service to decide if a matter is suitable to be sent to ERS. Where a complaint goes to ERS, the parties are invited to explore resolution by negotiation or the standards committee may make a finding of no further action.

In the year to 30 June 2017, 1467 complaints were closed and 41% of these were concluded through ERS.

Of the complaints closed during 2016/17, 75% resulted in a decision to take no further action. When complaints which were resolved by negotiation, conciliation or mediation plus those which were withdrawn are included, 84% of all complaints investigated resulted in no further action being required.

Time to resolve complaints

One difference between the Early Resolution Service process and the “standard track” process is shown by the average time taken to conclude complaints which were closed in 2016/17. Complaints closed by ERS took an average of 28 days, while the average time to conclude standard track complaints was 231 days. Overall, the average time to conclude all complaints closed in the year to 30 June 2017 was 148 days. This was down from an average of 160 days in the year to 30 June 2016.

Complaints lodged with Lawyers Complaints Service, year to 30 June

Direction

2015

2016

2017*

Lawyers

1528

1363

1331

Former lawyers

34

25

28

Non-lawyer employees

29

48

39

Former non-lawyer employees

0

0

1

Incorporated law firms

20

23

18

Former incorporated law firms

0

0

2

TOTAL

1611

1459

1419

Result of all complaints closed, year to 30 June

Result

2015

2016

2017*

Decision to take no action

1137

1253

1101

Referred to and resolved by negotiation, conciliation or mediation

143

97

116

Withdrawn, discontinued or settled

64

45

15

Orders made by lawyers standards committee

186

170

189

Complaints outstanding at 30 June

702

564

516

Complaints closed during year

1529

1595

1467

Early Resolution Service, year to 30 June

Measure

2015

2016

2017*

Complaints accepted (regardless of when opened)

686

679

644

Complaints where decision to take no action

452

495

488

Complaints resolved

186

120

110

Complaints closed during year

638

615

598

Complaints outstanding at end of year

43

20

14

Complaints not resolved and returned to standard process

65

76

52

Proportion of all complaints received

43%

47%

44%

Proportion of all complaints closed

42%

39%

41%


*All 2017 figures are provisional.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019