About complaints

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. 

To constitute a proper complaint, the complaint must:

  • be inwriting; and
  • 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.

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.

The fact that the Commissioner investigates a complaint does not mean that he accepts the allegations made in the complaint, or that he agrees that there has been misconduct.

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.

Generally, a complaint against a lawyer relates to:

  • miscommunication
  • overcharging
  • inadequate service
  • mistakes or negligence
  • inaccurate invoicing
  • unprofessional behaviour
  • conflicts of interest.

If an investigation leads to the conclusion that the lawyer has been guilty of misconduct, then the Commissioner will take disciplinary action.