(OzyDads) Complaints about parasites

Submitted by Editor on Tue, 03/08/2004 - 23:11

The Victorian government has recently conducted a substantial review of complaint procedures involving solicitors with a view to implementing reforms to make them more efficient and effective. Like all professionals, solicitors are service providers and sometimes they fall short in the advice they give or the way in which they deal with their clients.


From: GW / fwd via [recipient's list]

August 3, 2004

It is important to know that if you have a complaint against a solicitor, there is a fair resolution procedure available to you. A summary of the current complaint process is provided as a timely reminder.

The requirements for professional behaviour by solicitors and what constitutes a breach of that professionalism is outlined in the Legal Profession Practice Act 1996 ('the Act').

The Act distinguishes between disputes about money (disputes about solicitors' fees or allegations of financial loss caused by a solicitor's negligence) and complaints about unsatisfactory conduct or misconduct by a solicitor.

If you have a complaint about the way your solicitor has dealt with a matter or dispute his bill of costs, it is always advisable to discuss it with him directly. Often, matters can be resolved this way. If your complaint is unable to be resolved, procedures under the Act can be invoked to seek resolution between you and your solicitor by more independent means.


If you dispute your solicitor's bill of costs and it is under $15,000, you should refer the matter to the Professional Standards division of Victorian Lawyers RPA Ltd (RPA), the regulatory body of the legal profession.

This should be done within six months of receiving the bill (unless special circumstances exist). If the amount of the bill remains unpaid, the amount must be lodged with RPA before the dispute can be heard (unless there are issues of hardship for a client and an exemption is granted). Professional Standards will investigate and attempt to settle your dispute or, if unable to do so, advise that the matter be referred to the Legal Profession Tribunal.

The Legal Profession Tribunal can order that the costs be paid, reduced or waived. If your dispute involves a bill for a family law matter where proceedings have been issued, The Family Court will usually deal with your dispute.

Disputes about bills of costs exceeding $15,000 are dealt with more formally.

The bill that is disputed must be produced in a particular detailed form (known as a bill in taxable form) which is assessed by the Taxing Master of the Supreme Court. Whether the assessment of the bill results in it being reduced by the Taxing Master and, if so, by how much, will determine which party ultimately pays for the assessment process, including the costs II associated with the Taxing Master's hearing.


It is often difficult to assess whether or not a solicitor has been negligent in the handling of your legal matter. I' Independent legal advice may need to be obtained on the facts of your claim. A person alleging negligence needs to prove that financial loss has been suffered as a direct c " result of the negligent conduct. Negligence claims can be referred to the RPA for attempted settlement.

If a matter is unable to be resolved, it may be referred to the Legal Profession Tribunal. The Legal Profession Tribunal has jurisdiction to award up to $15,000 damages for negligence claims. Claims in excess of $15,000 should be the subject of court proceedings. Some examples of possible negligence claims against a solicitor include a failure to issue court proceedings within time limits prescribed, or a failure to make all proper inquiries in relation to a property transaction.


Unsatisfactory conduct is defined in the Act as conduct that falls short of the standard of competence and diligence that a member of the general public is entitled to unsatisfactory conduct will depend on the circumstances giving rise to each complaint. Examples may include failing to return telephone calls promptly or at all, unreasonable delays in dealing with a matter or failing to provide information and inform clients of the progress of their claim.

Misconduct is defined as those more serious breaches of professional standards, being conduct regarded as disgraceful or dishonourable to the legal profession. Misconduct might include behaviour such as failing to comply with undertakings given to a court or tribunal, acting for a client where a clear conflict of interest exists, as well as other conduct considered to render a person unfit to practise law.

Professional Standards (RPA), as well as the Legal Ombudsman, will investigate complaints made against solicitors. Complaints made against barristers are made to their equivalent professional body, the Victorian Bar Council. Complaints should be made in writing setting out  all the necessary facts and including supporting documentation (a complaint form is available from the RPA's website: www.liv.asn.au).

The RPA and the Legal Ombudsman have significant powers to investigate and resolve complaints as well as the ability to have matters referred to the Legal Profession Tribunal.

The Legal Profession Tribunal has powers under the Act to fine, reprimand, suspend or cancel the solicitor's practising certificate. An appeal process to the Full Tribunal is also available to either the solicitor or the client if either party wishes to pursue the matter further.

The Law Institute of Victoria fully supports the proposed streamlining of complaint procedures in the legal profession and awaits further developments in this area.

In addition, the Institute remains proactive in promoting high standards of service from Victorian solicitors. The Institute's ethics coordinator offers on- site practical support and training for law firms, encouraging all solicitors to recognise and implement their professional and ethical obligations. An Ethics Liaison Group allows firm representatives to meet regularly on ethical issues and to take responsibility for monitoring their own firms' standards. There is also a rostered duty solicitor available daily to answer telephone queries about issues of ethics.

While It would be great if solicitors didn't make mistakes or acts inappropriately,ina small number of cases, reality proves otherwise.

A serious approach to prevention and an efficient and accessible avenue of redress when thing go wrong are the next best things.



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