Telephone and fee mediation will be offered to better streamline complaints processing, and free up resources for the more serious complaints. Other initiatives may be ahead ...

Law Society puts priority on improving complaints practices

The Law Society is conducting a project to assess and implement alternate methods of handling complaints — such as through telephone resolutions and fee mediation. The goal is to increase the satisfaction of lawyers and complainants and to better use the Law Society' resources by spending less time on minor matters and investigating serious complaints in a more timely fashion.

As an important function of self-government, the Law Society receives and investigates complaints against lawyers. The investigation of complaints is conducted primarily by approximately 10 staff lawyers and officers in the Professional Conduct Department.

Complaints are most frequently made by clients, opposing parties or lawyers, but a complaint is defined in the Law Society Rules to include information from any source that suggests a disciplinary violation.

The Law Society expects to receive 1,900 complaints in the year 2000. Complaints are generally handled in chronological order, except in cases of urgency. Of the complaints received, statistics show that about 85% are closed by staff because the review establishes the Law Society has no jurisdiction (such as complaints of dissatisfaction over a lawyer's fees or services that do not amount to a concern about conduct or competency), or because the complaint is unproveable or unfounded. The remaining 15% of complaints are referred to the Practice Standards or Discipline Committee for further action if necessary.

While many complaints do not ultimately merit a regulatory response from the Law Society, it is necessary for the Law Society to review each one in fulfilling its regulatory responsibility. The Professional Conduct Department, however, wishes to streamline complaints more efficiently than ever before, by offering alternative dispute resolution when appropriate. This will free up resources and allow for multidisciplinary investigation teams to focus on the most serious and complex complaints, including those involving the mishandling of trust funds. This change will facilitate more thorough and effective investigations.

For the complaints that can be streamed into alternative dispute resolution, two main initiatives are underway:

  • Fee mediation: The Law Society is now offering a fee mediation program whereby complaints about fees may be referred to a volunteer mediator (with the consent of the lawyer and the complainant);
  • Telephone resolution: In suitable cases, Law Society staff will attempt to resolve a complaint by telephone in lieu of conducting a traditional form of investigation that requires an exchange of correspondence.

Further details will be published on these programs and on other initiatives that come under consideration. If you have questions, comments or suggestions about the complaints process or on alternate methods of handling complaints, please contact Jean Whittow, Deputy Executive Director, by telephone at (604) 443-5709, or Tim Holmes, Manager, Professional Conduct Department, at (604) 443-5742 (toll-free in B.C. 1-800 903-5300) or by fax at (604) 605-5399.