Problems with lawyers and law firms arise from time to time and part of the provincial law societies is to act in the public interest. They are committed to protecting the public against unprofessional and irresponsible attorneys.
Lawyers are proud of the high standards set by the profession, as all attorneys are bound by a strict professional code. Although it sometimes happens that attorneys misappropriate clients’ money, they represent a minute number of practising attorneys. The Attorneys’ Fidelity Fund will compensate any person who has lost money because of theft by an attorney.
The provincial law societies investigate complaints concerning the ethical behaviour of attorneys in their areas. However, they cannot order an attorney to pay compensation to a client. If you want to enforce your rights against a lawyer, you should consult another one to help you with the action in a court of law. In severe cases of unprofessional conduct, a provincial law society may apply to the High Court to order that the attorney be suspended from practice or struck from the role of attorneys.
If you want to file a complaint, submit it in the form of a written or typed statement, sworn before a commissioner of oaths, to the Head of the Disciplinary Department at the law society of your province. The law society will initiate an inquiry. You may be asked for further information or to give evidence before a disciplinary committee. You will be informed in writing of the finding of the committee afterwards. The attorney will also get an opportunity to comment on your complaint.
If you are unhappy with the account received from an attorney, remember the attorneys’ fees in respect of litigation and conveyancing are regulated by the state. There are procedures whereby the amount can be taxed (assessed by an independent person whose job it is to determine what may and may not be charged). If the attorney assisted you with a court case, the taxing master of the court will tax the account. If the matter was not a court matter, the account can be assessed by a person or taxing committee appointed by the law society.
Many complaints arise from a lack of communication. Make an appointment with your attorney during which you raise your problems with him or her, and ask for the information you want. You can also send a letter, preferably by registered post, asking for a full report. If an attorney is collecting a debt against you, they must furnish you with a statement detailing how the balance is made up, including all costs, interest and payments since the matter started. Be fair, allow the attorney a reasonable opportunity to report to you and the problems between you and your lawyers can hopefully be sorted out quickly and maturely.