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Avoiding complaints

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Avoiding complaints

Complaints can be time-consuming and distressing to deal with. We understand that complaints can’t always be avoided, but there are several things you can do to keep your relationship with your client positive and friendly.

Maintain a healthy relationship with your client

The following strategies can help you reduce the chances of a client making a complaint about you:

  1. Communicate clearly. Use plain English, offer realistic timelines and update clients on your progress and their legal costs regularly. 
  2. Be courteous. Show your clients courtesy and respect even when you’re busy and stressed. This can help prevent an already difficult situation becoming more hostile.
  3. Be clear about fees, including disbursements and any additional costs. One of the most common client complaints is that the final bill was higher than they expected. If their legal matter will take longer or cost more than anticipated, let them know as soon as possible, explain why the costs will increase and keep a record of that conversation.
  4. Keep detailed notes of every instruction and communication with both your client and other counsel. If anything changes, discuss the options with your client and keep a record of the conversation.

What to do if a client approaches you with a complaint

Be open to helping them resolve the issues before they escalate to a formal complaint. This will save you time and may also strengthen your relationship with your client. There are several ways you can do this including:

  • Keep your feelings in check. We understand that it’s natural to be defensive but try to control your reaction. It’s inevitable that a client will be unhappy with your service at some point in time. This is often because clients don’t understand the legal process, they’re stressed, or they don’t understand what should be happening.
  • Use the complaint as an opportunity to learn. Take time to understand what your client is concerned about and what they expect from you. This can help you find ways to improve your services.
  • Listen to your client. Make sure you understand what your client is complaining about before reacting. Don’t respond immediately, particularly if you’re upset, but let your client know that you’ll look into the matter and tell them when you’ll get back to them.
  • Find out what your client wants. You may be able to resolve their complaint quickly. If you’re prepared to offer them something different, you should let them know.
  • Communicate clearly. Talk about the issue with your client using language that’s neutral and easy for them to understand. Be sure to explain what you can and can’t do.
  • Talk to other people in your organisation about how you’ll deal with complaints. For example, you may agree that you shouldn’t deal with your own complaints and another lawyer should do this for you.
  • If you’re a sole practitioner, join your local law association and find out what others do. You may also be able to help each other.
  • Give your client information about making a complaint to us if the matter can’t be resolved.

What to do if someone makes a complaint about you

If someone does make a complaint about you, it’s important that you:

  • make reasonable efforts to resolve their concerns;
  • act on our instructions or requests within the timeframe we give you;
  • give us any relevant information that we need to understand about the complaint;
  • avoid doing anything that may cause further conflict between you and your client;
  • contact us if you do not understand what we’re asking you to do; and
  • let us know if you need personal support or more time to respond.

Resources for handling complaints

The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals Australia (SOCAP) and the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation at Monash University have developed a complaints handling toolkit for small businesses. The toolkit provides a practical guide for complaint handling within small businesses and includes tips, tools and resources to help you deal with complaints.

You can also find more information about the types of complaints clients make about lawyers in our annual reports.

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