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If You Are the Subject of a Complaint

One of the Law Society's most important responsibilities is to respond to complaints about lawyers and paralegals. Our complaints process is principled and balanced to ensure fairness to all parties while at all times protecting the public interest.

The Law Society's mandate
The complaints process
Your duty to respond and co-operate
Duty Counsel
Legal representation
The Proceedings Authorization Committee
Disciplinary proceedings and hearings
Timelines
Reviews of closed complaints
Other obligations
Assistance

The Law Society’s mandate

The Law Society's mandate is to regulate the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario in the public interest.

The Law Society's authority to regulate lawyers and paralegals comes from the Law Society Act.

Lawyers and licensed paralegals must comply with the Law Society Act and all related governance legislation, including regulations and by-laws and the Rules of Professional Conduct or Paralegal Rules of Conduct.

The Law Society has statutory jurisdiction to receive and address complaints about lawyers and paralegals, from clients, persons opposed in interest, other lawyers and paralegals, judicial officers, government officials and members of the public.

Within our mandate, we respond to complaints about the conduct, competence and capacity of lawyers and paralegals. For example, we deal with issues relating to a lawyer or paralegal's failure to reply to communications; failure to report on a transaction; delay; misleading, rude and discriminatory behaviour and failure to account for or improper handling of money.

Generally, we are concerned with issues relating to the service, ethics and honesty of lawyers and licensed paralegals.

The Law Society’s complaints process

We review and consider every complaint we receive, although we may not take action on all of them. Where possible, we will try to help you and the complainant deal with the issues raised. Most issues are resolved without a formal discipline hearing. We investigate when necessary and take disciplinary action in appropriate cases. 

Many of the complaints we receive involve problems with communication. These cases can often be resolved at an early stage.

In appropriate cases, we will contact you and the complainant to explore opportunities for resolving the complaint. Early resolution can help repair relationships and is generally less time-consuming than a formal investigation.

Matters can be resolved at various stages of the complaints process and your co-operation in reaching a resolution is always helpful, to the profession, the public and you.

Receiving and assessing complaints
The Complaints and Compliance department (in our Client Service Centre) is the first point of contact for complainants. Complaints and Compliance will acknowledge each complaint and assign a file number.

The Law Society can deal with a range of matters related to lawyers’ and paralegals’ professional conduct. For example, we can deal with issues relating to service; ethics or honesty; communications (including failure to reply to communications or to report on a transaction); delay; misleading, rude and discriminatory behaviour; or failure to account for, or the improper handling of, money.

The Law Society will also respond to information about unlicensed practitioners who are providing legal services. Refer to Illegal Practitioners for additional information.

Many complaints raise issues that are outside our jurisdiction. In these cases, we may refer complainants to the Assessment Office of the Superior Court of Justice, to the police, to other regulatory authorities, or suggest that they seek advice from another lawyer or paralegal. In addition to making a complaint to the Law Society, complainants may also explore the availability of other options, such as the civil and/or criminal justice system. For more information, you may wish to read the Law Society's process for reporting to law enforcement and other regulators.

With a few very limited exceptions, we will not investigate complaints that are received more than three years from the date of the issue complained about or the date that the complainant learned about it.

If the complaint is within our jurisdiction and raises issues of professional conduct, the Complaints and Compliance department directs the matter to Intake & Resolution in the Professional Regulation Division.

Complaints Services also attempts to resolve some types of complaints.
 
Investigations under the Law Society Act
The Law Society may conduct an investigation under section 49.3 of the Law Society Act if we receive information suggesting that you may have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a licensee, or that you may be incapacitated. 

Staff in Intake & Resolution review each complaint as it comes into the Professional Regulation Division and identify whether a lawyer or paralegal:

  • May have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a lawyer or paralegal.

  • Lacks the capacity to meet any of his or her obligations as a lawyer or paralegal.

Intake & Resolution may ask the complainant to provide specific information to support the allegations in the complaint. Typically, we will close the complaint if the complainant fails to provide documents or information to support the allegations.

Intake & Resolution may ask you to provide information in response to the issues raised in the complaint.

If the information and documentation provided do not raise a reasonable belief that you may have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming, or that you lack capacity, the file will be closed.

We may also close a file because the issues raised in the complaint are not of regulatory concern to the Law Society or a further investigation won’t help to resolve them.

We may close the complaint or defer further investigation for other reasons (for example, if the allegations are the subject of concurrent criminal, civil or other regulatory proceedings).

In other instances, where the evidence provides some support for the concerns raised, staff may take remedial action. In these cases, a complaint file will be closed after a discussion with or letter from Law Society staff about your conduct. This could include giving you best practices advice or a letter of caution.

In any of these circumstances, you and the complainant will receive a letter from the Law Society to tell you that the file is closed. The letter will explain our reasons for closing it.

Otherwise, the Law Society may conduct further investigation under section 49.3(2) or (4) of the Law Society Act. These investigations are conducted by Investigation Services  

Notification and information about the complaint

If a complaint regarding your conduct is directed to the Professional Regulation Division, a staff member will contact you. If the complaint is investigated, you will be given the opportunity to respond to allegations about your conduct.

We will provide you with the substance of the complaint before asking you to respond. We will keep you informed during the investigation process.

Investigation Services investigates complaints under the authority of the Law Society Act (s. 49.3). The investigator’s scope of the authority is set out in subsections 49.3(2) or (4) of the Act and depend on the nature of the allegations.

Law Society staff may ask you for an oral interview or a written response to the complaint or may attend at your office. The investigator may request information from you, people who work with you or other witnesses. You may be requested to produce documents that relate to the matters under investigation, such as client files. You have a duty to respond promptly and completely to a request from the Law Society and to co-operate with a Law Society investigation.

If the evidence does not warrant further regulatory proceedings, the file will be closed. Sometimes a complaint file will be closed after a discussion with or letter from Law Society staff about your conduct.
 

Further information about the complaint process​

Complaints and investigations are confidential unless the Law Society has issued a regulatory notice which informs you that the Law Society is pursuing regulatory proceeding (see Proceedings Authorization Committee below). Confidentiality of information obtained as a result of an investigation is a requirement under section 49.12 of the Law Society Act.

Your duty to respond and co-operate

Regardless of the severity of the complaint or your assessment of the merits of the complaint, you have a professional obligation to respond promptly to all communications from the Law Society and to continue to co-operate with the investigation (Rule 7.1-1 – lawyers and Rule 9.01 – paralegals).

If you fail to respond to or co-operate with the Law Society, you may be subject to discipline proceedings under the Law Society’s Summary Hearing Process, in addition to any proceedings relating to the original complaint. The Summary Hearing Process is an expedited hearing process before a single bencher Hearing Panel.

Your obligation to respond to our investigators includes providing information that is confidential and/or covered by solicitor-client privilege.

Disclosure to us does not constitute a waiver of solicitor-client privilege. Subject to the exceptions in the Law Society Act, we will not disclose information gathered in an investigation.

Duty Counsel

Volunteer duty counsel may be available to provide limited assistance in some cases. These duty counsel are available at the Tribunal Office until 12:00 p.m. on Mondays, or the Tuesday if the Monday is a holiday.  For further information about this program, please contact the Tribunal Office at 416-947-5249 or go to the Tribunal website at www.lawsocietytribunal.ca.

Legal representation

You may retain a legal representative to assist you when you are the subject of a complaint or investigation by the Law Society.

If you do hire legal representation, you still must respond promptly to our requests for information and continue to co-operate with the investigation.

The obligations to respond and co-operate are your personal, professional obligations and continue even if you retain a representative.

The Proceedings Authorization Committee

In some cases, a matter will be referred to the Proceedings Authorization Committee (a committee of benchers) to consider whether further action is warranted.

The Proceedings Authorization Committee may authorize disciplinary, interlocutory proceedings or a more informal conclusion of the matter. The authority for the Proceedings Authorization Committee is found in the Law Society Act and By-Law 11. If your matter is referred to the Proceedings Authorization Committee, you will be notified of the outcome.

The matter becomes public if the Proceedings Authorization Committee authorizes a hearing and a Notice of Application is issued and served upon you.

The Notice of Application is a public document that outlines details of the allegations against you.

Disciplinary proceedings and hearings

A hearing is authorized when the Proceedings Authorization Committee has reasonable grounds to believe that you:

  1. Have engaged in professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a lawyer or paralegal,
  2. Have failed to meet the standards of professional competence, or
  3. Are incapacitated.

A Hearing Panel presides over the case and decides whether the allegations have been proven and if so, what penalty will be imposed.

Discipline proceedings are normally open to the public and are a matter of public record. They are governed by the Rules of Practice and Procedure.

If you are unrepresented, volunteer duty counsel may be available in some cases to provide limited assistance at Proceedings Management Conference dates and at hearings on the merits of the matter. For further information about duty counsel, please contact the Tribunal Office at 416-947-5249 or go to the Tribunal website at www.lawsocietytribunal.ca.

Penalties

The Law Society’s Hearing Panel can impose a range of penalties. A Hearing Panel can issue a formal warning or a temporary suspension, can order you to pay a fine, revoke your licence (disbarment) or grant you permission to surrender your licence (permission to resign).

Either party may appeal the Hearing Panel’s decision, in which case the matter may progress to the Appeal Panel, subject to the Law Society’s legislation that governs appeals.

Timelines

The length of time it takes to resolve or close a complaint depends on the nature of the complaint and its complexity. Most complaints are resolved or the file is closed upon completion of the investigation – without the need for further regulatory action such as a hearing.

If the complaint is complex or discloses serious regulatory issues, it can take up to a year or longer to complete the investigation. If the matter proceeds to hearing, additional time will be added to the length of the process.

About five percent of complaints are referred to the Proceedings Authorization Committee and may result in a disciplinary proceeding and hearing.

Reviews of closed complaints

If a complaint is closed in Intake & Resolution or Investigation Services and the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome, the complainant may ask the Complaints Resolution Commissioner to provide an independent review of the decision to close the complaint.

This is not a right of appeal but, rather, a review of whether the Law Society acted reasonably. You do not participate in the review; however, the Commissioner will consider your comments to the Law Society in response to the complaint. If the Commissioner recommends that the Law Society take further action on the complaint, and if the Law Society agrees to take further action, you will be notified and will be given another opportunity to respond.

The jurisdiction of the Complaints Resolution Commissioner and the complaints review process is found in the Law Society Act and By-Law 11.

Other obligations

In addition to the matters set out in this document, you have other professional, ethical and legal obligations. Among other things, you may be obliged to:

  1. Give notice to your insurer and inform your client of an error or omission,
  2. Report misconduct on the part of another lawyer or paralegal, or
  3. Reimburse the Compensation Fund as required for monies paid to victims because of your dishonesty.

Assistance

Most lawyers and paralegals are seriously concerned when they learn that they are the subject of a complaint to the Law Society. It may help to discuss the complaint and your response to the complaint with a partner, colleague or other trusted advisor.

You may also wish to seek formal advice from another lawyer or paralegal.

The Member Assistance Program (MAP) provides lawyers and paralegals experiencing professional or personal crisis with access to a full range of professional, confidential services. These include 24/7/365 live access to counselling, consultation and resources, work-life balance solutions, as well as an expanded counsellor network in Ontario and nationally. Counsellors are registered professionals with a minimum of a master’s degree and an average of 15 years of clinical experience and counselling is available in person, by telephone or online. For further information, contact Homewood Human Solutions.

Discrimination and Harassment Counsel

As part of its efforts to enable equity and diversity in the workplace and the profession, and to help stop discrimination and harassment, the Law Society provides a free Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (DHC) service to the Ontario public and to lawyers and paralegals. The DHC confidentially assists anyone who may have experienced discrimination or harassment by a lawyer or paralegal.

Although the DHC position is funded by the Law Society, the DHC works independently from the Law Society. The DHC keeps all information received in strict confidence.

For further information:
Website: www.dhcounsel.on.ca
Telephone: 1-877-790-2200