The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa is the professional body for lawyers in New Zealand. Under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (the Act) we both regulate and represent the legal profession.
We are part of a co-regulatory system that considers complaint and disciplinary matters relating to all lawyers.
The Law Society administers one aspect of the complaint and disciplinary process – the Lawyers Complaints Service – which receives all complaints about lawyers. We take any allegations of wrongdoing seriously. All complaints made to us are referred to an independent Standards Committee.
There are 23 Standards Committees across Aotearoa made up of lawyers and lay people appointed by the Law Society. The Law Society provides staff members to support the Standards Committees in carrying out their functions. These staff members work under delegation to the Standards Committees but are not decision makers.
All decisions of the Standards Committees can be independently reviewed by the Legal Complaints Review Officer. The Legal Complaints Review Officer is independent of the Law Society and is administered by the Ministry of Justice.
Where a Standards Committee considers the conduct complained of may amount to misconduct, complaints may be referred to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal. The Tribunal is also an independent and separate body administered by the Ministry of Justice which operates much like a court. When referring a complaint to the Tribunal, a Standards Committee must consider whether there is a reasonable prospect of success.
Only the Tribunal may make a finding of misconduct and suspend a lawyer or strike them from the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors. Being struck off means that a lawyer cannot practise law in the future.
Every decision of the Standards Committee, the Tribunal and the Legal Complaints Review Officer is capable of being judicially reviewed by the High Court.
Our role as prosecutor
Where a complaint has been referred to the Tribunal, the referring Standards Committee is treated as the prosecutor or informant. Our National Prosecutions Manager works with a team of selected lawyers (who act as prosecutors) to support Standards Committees in prosecuting a case at the Tribunal.
The Tribunal publishes its decisions on the Ministry of Justice website. As we are not the decision maker when it comes to the outcome of complaints, we cannot control the publication of Tribunal decisions. The Disciplinary Tribunal publishes summaries of its decisions on the Ministry of Justice website.
If a lawyer is suspended and holds a current practising certificate a note will be placed on that lawyer’s record on the Public Register for the period of the suspension. We publicise Tribunal decisions to educate the legal profession and to protect consumers of legal services.
On occasions when the Standards Committees order publication of a summary of a decision it will almost always occur without naming the lawyer. We then publish the summary (adhering to restrictions set down by the Standards Committee) on our website and in our weekly email to all lawyers, LawPoints.
Updates on complaints
We are prevented by law from commenting on whether we have received a complaint, or any details of concerns or complaints raised with us. This is due to strict requirements placed on us by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (the Act) which means that we would be breaking the law if we release information publicly about specific complaints or concerns.
The restriction on our ability to be transparent about the complaints process is one of the reasons we are carrying out an independent review of the statutory framework for legal services. Terms of Reference for the Review will be released for consultation shortly.
The complaints process
Under the Act, Standards Committees are responsible for investigating and deciding on the outcome of complaints made about lawyers. They are independent to the Law Society and we have no power to direct them to take further action or to influence the outcome of their inquiries.
Standards Committees may investigate a complaint, give a direction for negotiation, conciliation, or mediation; or decide to take no further action on the complaint.
They also have the power to undertake "own motion" investigations where matters are referred to the Law Society (other than as a complaint), where the person raising a concern opts not to be party to what happens, or where the Standards Committee thinks an own motion investigation is warranted.
The investigation process can be lengthy. A thorough process must be undertaken to ensure that natural justice can be achieved for both the complainant and the lawyer being investigated. The length of time is something that the Law Society is keen to address through improving processes such as our Early Resolution Service. We have also included efficiency of the complaints process in our Terms of Reference for the independent review to ensure appropriate statutory levers are explored.
Following the outcome of an investigation, the Standards Committee may decide to take no further action, may find that a lawyer has behaved in a manner that constituted unsatisfactory conduct, or may make a referral to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
To lodge a complaint please visit our website or contact the Lawyers Complaints service on 0800 261 801.
Data on complaints
We publish data on the number and type of complaints that we receive in our Annual Report. Previous Annual Reports are on this page.
Interview requests for our President and any other member of the Law Society can be made through our media team via email@example.com or 027 214 6307.