Anyone can make a complaint to the Commissioner about a lawyer practising in South Australia.
A complaint can be about a lawyer’s conduct, or the fees charged.
A complaint will usually be made by the lawyer's client, but it can also be made by a third party who is otherwise impacted by the lawyer's conduct or fees.
Generally, a complaint against a lawyer relates to:
- inadequate service
- mistakes or negligence
- inaccurate invoicing
- unprofessional behaviour
- conflicts of interest.
Not all types of complaints amount to misconduct. For example, the fact that a lawyer has simply made a mistake will not in itself usually amount to misconduct.
A complaint must be submitted in writing, ideally using the complaint form. To constitute a proper complaint, the complaint must:
- identify the complainant; and
- if possible identify the legal practitioner or former legal practitioner about whom the complaint is made; and
- describe the alleged conduct the subject of the complaint.
A complaint must be made within 3 years of the conduct that is the subject of the complaint, or such longer period as the Commissioner may allow.
A person who has been declared by the Supreme Court to be a vexatious litigant is not able to make a complaint.
The Commissioner’s office treats every complaint seriously and follows a thorough investigative process. If an investigation leads to the conclusion that the lawyer has been guilty of misconduct, then the Commissioner will take disciplinary action.
If the Commissioner receives a complaint about a lawyer that complies with the requirements set out above, then he generally must investigate that complaint. However, in some limited circumstances he may decide to close a complaint without investigating it (or without completing the investigation) - for example, where:
- it is outside of the Commissioner’s jurisdiction
- the Commissioner determines that it is frivolous or lacking substance
- the complainant does not respond adequately to a request for further information
- the complainant does not cooperate in the investigation or conciliation of the complaint
- it is in the public interest to close the complaint.