The Lawyers Complaints Service must be uniform and consistent throughout New Zealand, and also fair, effective and efficient. Complaints will be handled in 12 of the branch areas on behalf of the New Zealand Law Society, with national office maintaining a supervisory role. Standards committees will handle the complaints assisted by Legal Standards Officers (LSOs).
Complaints must be in writing and must include certain information. The complaints service must give reasonable assistance to any person wishing to make a complaint. Once a valid complaint has been received, a LSO must acknowledge receipt to the complainant, notify the lawyer and provide a copy of the complaint, and refer the matter as soon as reasonably practicable to a standards committee.
Lawyers have the right to make an explanation in response to the complaint.
If a complainant and the lawyer they're complaining about are both willing, matters could be resolved by negotiation, conciliation or mediation via the Early Resolution Service. If so, an ERS Legal Standards Officer will phone and explain the process.
Once a complaint has been referred to it, the standards committee may:
The committee must, as soon as practicable, advise the complainant and the lawyer of the procedure that it proposes to adopt.
If an inquiry is commenced, the standards committee may delegate part of this to a LSO, a costs assessor or a special investigator. Once all the information has been received, a hearing will be held.
There is a strong statutory preference for hearings to be on the papers.
After holding a hearing, a standards committee can make one of the following determinations:
If a standards committee makes a finding of unsatisfactory conduct, it has a wide range of orders that it can make (under s156 of the LCA), including:
If you are asked to respond to a Standards Committees about a complaint: