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Complaint outcomes

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How we resolve your complaint

We have a range of methods to resolve complaints. These include:

  • informal resolution
  • mediation
  • investigations.

We resolve most complaints about lawyers informally. It is only very serious cases that require an investigation. Most lawyers genuinely try to do the right thing and are prepared to work with us to sort out your concerns. 

What outcomes can you expect?

There are many different possible outcomes of a complaint.  We encourage you to submit an enquiry with us first so we can provide a preliminary assessment of your case. This allows us to explain your options and tell you what may apply in your specific circumstances.

Informal resolution Common outcomes

We work with you and the lawyer to find a solution that you are both happy with. This can take place by telephone, in writing, via video conference or face to face.

Most complaints that we handle are resolved in this way. 

  • We will listen to both of you share your views, needs and the outcomes you are seeking.
  • Each of you will present what you would like to settle your differences, and consider the other party’s offer.
  • We will tell you our assessment of the merits of both positions and make suggestions about appropriate terms of settlement.
  • We will talk to the lawyer about any service improvements we expect in the future.

These vary from case to case, but common outcomes include:

  • an explanation
  • an apology
  • return of documents
  • correction of legal work 
  • payment terms (such as by instalments)
  • refunds or compensation payable.

In some cases, we may also make a record of education, advice, warnings or undertakings given so that we can identify any persistent issues for action.

With legal costs complaints we may also explain to the lawyer how they can comply with their professional obligations better in the future. This may include the need for further training.

Mediation Common outcomes

This is another way we can resolve your complaint informally.  A mediation hearing takes place on a set date and time. It usually takes about 23 hours.

An accredited mediator works with you and your lawyer during a hearing to find a solution to your problem that you are both happy with.

We can order you and your lawyer to take part in a mediation if necessary.

You can expect similar outcomes in a mediation as those that may apply when we work with you and your lawyer to resolve your complaint informally  (as listed in the previous table).

Costs review Common outcomes

If your complaints is about legal costs, we can order a cost review. This is where we ask a person with specialist skills in costing to assess the lawyer's work and decide if what they charged you for their professional services is fair and reasonable.

The cost review will provide a report on whether the amount charged by the lawyer for their work is fair and reasonable.  The report may recommend:

  • a refund
  • reduction in your bill, or 
  • you must pay the bill in full.

A cost review report is legally binding on both parties.

Investigations Common outcomes

We investigate complaints that may involve serious conduct issues by a lawyer. These may include:

  • behaviour that is dishonest or misleading 
  • falsely witnessing documents
  • acting where there is a conflict of interest
  • misuse of trust money or property (dishonesty or fraud)
  • failing to maintain client confldentiality
  • acting without instructions
  • engaging in discrimination, sexual harassment or workplace bullying
  • failing to comply with court orders or undertakings
  • charging legal costs that are not fair or reasonable and/or gross overcharging 
  • significant, multiple or repeated instances of poor service or incompetence.

Our investigation will seek to understand if there is enough evidence available to prove the complaint.  

Sometimes we must wait until other events occur, such as related court actions, or investigations by police or other regulators, such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO)  or Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) before we can complete our investigation.

We can issue a caution or reprimand, or we can order the lawyer to:

  • make an apology
  • redo the legal work at no cost, or to reduce or waive the costs for that work
  • undertake further training, education, counselling or supervision
  • issue a fine up to $25,000
  • recommend a condition is applied to the lawyer's practising certificate.

We can also bring charges against the lawyer before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

In the most serious cases, following a disciplinary prosecution, VCAT may recommend the lawyer's name be removed from the roll.  The Commissioner will then apply to the Supreme Court to remove the lawyer from the legal roll (so they can no longer act or work as a lawyer).

Note: For complaints about legal costs we can only hand down a written order if the amount in dispute is less than $18,555 (indexed).

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