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Property matters biggest source of complaints against lawyers

04 March 2019

Matters related to property law were the biggest source of complaints lodged with the Law Society's Lawyers Complaints Service in the year to 30 June 2018.

The latest Annual Report of the New Zealand Law Society has been tabled in Parliament. It shows that property matters made up 18.1% of complaints, followed by trusts and estates (17.9%), family law (17.5%), employment law (9.2%) and civil litigation (9.0%).

The report notes that the areas of law most relevant to personal issues are those where most complaints arise. There was a noticeable increase in the proportion of employment law-related complaints in the 2017/18, up to 9.2% from 5.1% the year before.

In the year to 30 June 2018, 1581 complaints were lodged with the Lawyers Complaints Service. This was up 11.4% on the 1419 complaints lodged in the previous year. Complaints against practising lawyers made up 93% of all complaints received, while 42% of complaints were lodged by clients or former clients of lawyers.

Direction of complaints received by Lawyers Complaints Service, year to 30 June
Direction of complaint201820172016
Against lawyers147013311363
Against non-lawyer employees453948
Against former lawyers492825
Against incorporporated law firms141823
Against former non-lawyer employees310
Against former incorporated law firms020
Total158114191459
Origin of complaints received by Lawyers Complaints Service, year to 30 June
Origin201820172016
Client/former client662661769
Client - other side255235289
Other1144999
Lawyer7411687
NZLS own motion11510082
Third party24015475
Beneficiary11910357
Regulatory authority211
Total158114191459

During the year to 30 June 2018, 1319 complaints were resolved and closed. Of these, 82% were not upheld. When complaints which were resolved by negotiation, conciliation or mediation are included, plus those which were withdrawn, 87% of complaints which were investigated and resolved in the 2017/18 year were not upheld.

Complaints resolved and closed, year to 30 June
Result201820172016
Not upheld - no further action107211021253
Negotiation, conciliation or mediation4211697
Withdrawn, discontinued or settled251545
Orders made by lawyers standards committee183183170
Complaints outstanding at 30 June779516564
Complaints closed during year131914671595

The report says complaints of breach of the Rules of Conduct and Client Care, overcharging and negligence/incompetence are consistently the matters most frequently complained about. Complainants may complain about more than one matter, meaning the total number of types of complaints exceeds the actual number of complaints made.

Between February and 30 June 2018 (the end of the reporting period), lawyers standards committees received 14 separate complaints or reports alleging sexual harassment or other unacceptable behaviour by members of the legal profession.

Most common types of complaint made to Lawyers Complaints Service, year to 30 June
Type201820172016
Breach of Conduct & Client Care Rules581522360
Overcharging407375365
Negligence/Incompetence395436395
Inadequate reporting/Communications346304255
Misleading conduct197175122
Conflict of interest177167153
Discourtesy166187153
Delay165152147
Failure to follow instructions118120128
Other conduct issues105105355

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Last updated on the 4th March 2019