You are facing a Law Society investigation. What do you need to know?
Simple answer: You must cooperate.
The Law Society considers all complaints about lawyer conduct or competency, receiving over 1,100 each year. So it wouldn’t be surprising if, at some point in your career, you receive a letter from us asking for a response to a complaint.
As a lawyer, you have a duty to cooperate with Law Society investigations, including complaint and forensic investigations. Refusal to cooperate may lead to a citation and a disciplinary hearing, independent of the original complaint.
Law Society Rule 3-5(6) sets out the positive obligation for a lawyer to cooperate fully with a Law Society investigation. Rule 3-5(6.1) lists many of the Law Society’s investigative powers, including the power to require a lawyer to:
- produce files, documents and other records for examination or copying;
- attend an interview and answer questions;
- cause an employee or agent of the lawyer to answer questions and provide information.
Lawyers have an obligation to cooperate even if the information sought by the Law Society is privileged or confidential (Rule 3-5(10)). Lawyers also have an obligation to cooperate regardless of whether they are the subject of the complaint in question or the subject of an insurance claim.
The Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia also emphasizes the ethical duty of a lawyer to cooperate. Rule 7.1-1 provides that a lawyer must:
- reply promptly and completely to any communication from the Law Society;
- provide documents as required to the Law Society;
- not improperly obstruct or delay Law Society investigations, audits and inquiries;
- cooperate with Law Society investigations, audits and inquiries involving the lawyer or a member of the lawyer’s firm;
- comply with orders made under the Legal Profession Act or Law Society Rules; and
- otherwise comply with the Law Society’s regulation of the lawyer’s practice.
We recognize that lawyers may be very concerned to learn they are the subject of a complaint investigation. If it happens to you, it is important to deal with the situation promptly. Consider talking with a senior lawyer who is experienced in Law Society matters and, if it is a serious allegation, you may wish to retain counsel to represent you.
The public must have confidence in the Law Society’s ability to investigate and regulate its members. As such, the Law Society relies on prompt and complete replies from lawyers during investigations to uphold its paramount duty of protecting the public interest and the administration of justice.