Like most regulatory bodies, the Law Society uses a system of progressive or graduated discipline to respond to lawyer violations of Law Society Rules and the Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia.
A progressive discipline system allows the Law Society to apply consequences from mild to severe, depending on the nature of the violation and the circumstances of the case.
After a full investigation, about 13-16% of complaints made to the Law Society are considered for progressive discipline.
The role of the Discipline Committee is to make decisions on complaints investigated by the Law Society staff or referred by the Complainant’s Review Committee. In reaching appropriate and consistent decisions on the matters that come before them, the Discipline Committee is guided by the Conduct Assessment & Disposition Guidelines (Interim Report of the Discipline Guidelines Task Force, June 2011).
In certain circumstances, a lawyer under investigation may request that the Discipline Committee hold the investigation and the committee's disposition in abeyance. In considering these requests, the Discipline Committee is guided by the Abeyance Policy adopted by the Benchers in September 2010.
After considering a complaint, the Discipline Committee has authority to decide on the following possible consequences:
- Take no further action;
- Send a conduct letter to the lawyer
- Order a conduct meeting
- Order a conduct review
- Authorize the Executive Director to issue a citation, which leads to a formal hearing regarding the lawyer’s conduct.
A conduct letter outlines the complaint and the professional conduct concerns. It is sent to the lawyer and a copy or summary is sent to the complainant. A conduct letter does not form part of a lawyer’s professional conduct record and is not admissible in the hearing of a citation (Law Society Rules 4-4 and 4-6.1).
Conduct meetings are held in private and do not form part of a lawyer’s professional conduct record. The purpose of the meeting is to educate the lawyer about the conduct that has resulted in the complaint and to ensure the lawyer has a greater understanding of the consequences of his or her actions (Law Society Rules 4-4 and 4-6.2).
A conduct review is a meeting between at least one Law Society Bencher and one other senior lawyer to discuss the conduct that led to the complaint (Law Society Rules 4-7 to 4-12).
The purpose of the conduct review is to make sure the lawyer understands the problems created by the conduct and to satisfy the review committee that the behaviour is unlikely to be repeated.
The conduct review process is not a formal hearing, and the review is conducted privately. This allows the reviewers and the lawyer to be free to exchange views and opinions.
The complainant is invited to attend a portion of the review and to provide information about the particular conduct in question.
The conduct review is not made public, unless the public is already aware of the complaint. However, the review does become part of the lawyer’s record and can be considered should any future discipline violations be proved against the lawyer.
At the conclusion of a conduct review, the reviewers prepare a report for the Discipline Committee outlining their findings, conclusions and recommendations. The Discipline Committee then has the option to:
- take no further action
- refer the lawyer to the Practice Standards Committee in cases where the lawyer’s skills may need upgrading
- authorize issuance of a citation, which is the first step towards a public hearing
- rescind the original decision and substitute another decision