New Zealand Law Society - Early Resolution Service proves very successful

Early Resolution Service proves very successful

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The Law Society’s new Early Resolution Service (ERS) has proven very successful.

In its first full year of operation nationwide, the ERS was able to conclude more than one third of the complaints the Lawyers Complaints Service received.

The ERS was established with the aim of resolving those complaints that are not serious and suitable for resolution in a timely and more flexible manner. It was initially trialled with complaints received in four centres from November 2011. The improved resolution rates and higher satisfaction levels resulted in the service being implemented nationally.

The first full year of national operation ended on 31 January 2014. In that year, the Lawyers Complaints Service received 1,742 complaints.

Of these, 785 were finally accepted into the ERS, 614 (or 35.2% of total complaints) were concluded, 66 were still open at 31 January and 105 were referred back to the standard track process for complaints.

For the complaints closed in the year to 31 January 2014, it took an average of 35 days to close a complaint that was accepted into the ERS, compared with 188 days for complaints that followed the standard track. The extra time required on the standard track is due to the statutory process requirements.

This success of the ERS has brought a series of benefits to the profession. Three important benefits are:

  • less stress for lawyers facing a complaint when it is accepted into the ERS;
  • the opportunity for client-lawyer relationships to be repaired; and
  • more timely resolution.

How ERS works

The Early Resolution System (ERS) is an initiative to promote timely resolution of complaints where appropriate. The ERS staff also contact the parties by phone in certain cases when there is no further action to explain the process outcome and other options.

All complaints, or concerns, received by the Lawyers Complaints Service come to a single point in the Law Society. At that point, Complaints Service staff conduct a “first triage”, where complaints are channelled either to the standard track, or accepted for submission to the “second triage”. This encourages consistency in treatment of complaints as well as providing information about the nature of complaints which is used in looking at system improvements.

The “second triage” stage is actually dealt with by one of two specialist ERS Standards Committees. A small number of complaints including “own motion investigations” which are instigated by the committee, and some matters subject to a Board resolution do not go through the triage system.

The aim of the early review of cases is to identify and deal with complaints that are capable of being quickly resolved. The system also enables the service to deal with complaints which are likely to result in no further action in a timelier manner and to provide early information to the complainant. This is more difficult to do in the standard track process. Complaints which involve any form of dishonesty or a significant breach of any trust account rules would not be considered suitable for ERS.

The standards committee decides whether the complaints are suitable for ERS or if the complaint should be dealt with on the standard track.

The committee may consider that the complaint is capable of being resolved by negotiation or some form of settlement process. Both the complainant and the lawyer need to agree on the matter going down the ERS track.

There have been times when the lawyer has not agreed to the complaint going down the ERS path. In some cases, the complaint has been about fees and the lawyer has said that the fees were, in their opinion, fair and reasonable and so they do not want to go into a negotiation. They preferred the matter to be processed following the longer process of the standard track.


Of the 785 complaints (45% of all complaints received) accepted into the ERS in the year to January 31, the outcomes were:

  • resolved by no further action, 387 (49.3% or 22.2% of all complaints);
  • resolved by negotiation, agreed settlement or withdrawn, 227 (28.9% or 13% of all complaints);
  • unable to be resolved and referred back to the standard track process, 105 (13.3% or 6% of all complaints); and
  • still open, 66 (8.5% or 3.7% of all complaints).

Applications for review

Of the 614 complaints concluded by the ERS, 77 (or 12.5%) complaints which had resulted in no further action being taken (not resolution) were referred for review to the Legal Complaints Review Officer.

Concerns form

The Lawyers Complaint Service has also introduced a “concerns form”, which is available for people to fill out on the website:

Anyone who has a concern about a lawyer may provide contact details and a Legal Standards Officer will call the person within five working days at the person’s preferred time to discuss the concern.

This is proving to be a good way of resolving minor concerns early outside of the formal complaints process. Clients may be given options and information. This may result in the client feeling confident about discussing the issue with their lawyer before it matures into a full-blown complaint.

During its first year, around 400 concerns were lodged. In the main these related to trusts and estates, property and family law. They concerned charging, competency and general inquiries.

0800 Complaints Inquiry Line

The Lawyers Complaints Service provides a telephone line dedicated to receiving and responding to inquiries concerning complaints and the complaints service. This is provided in Reg 6(3) of the LCA (Lawyers: Complaints Service and Standards Committees) Regulations.

Approximately 55 calls a week are received and from 1 February 2014 the 0800 complaints line has been based in Canterbury-Westland branch. This is an initiative which is intended to promote consistency, monitoring of clients’ concerns and provide better information to analyse the causes of complaints.

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