Frequently asked questions
Who can make a complaint?
Anyone who is concerned about the conduct of a legal practitioner or law practice employee can make a complaint—a client, a member of the public, other legal practitioners or law practice employees. The Queensland Law Society and the Bar Association of Queensland can also complain about the conduct of a solicitor, barrister or law practice employee (see factsheet 2 Making a complaint ).
Who can be complained about?
You can make a complaint about the conduct of current and former solicitors, barristers and law practice employees, but only about their conduct in the practice of law. We cannot address complaints about their conduct in another capacity such as an investment adviser, an immigration agent or a member of parliament.
You can make a complaint about the conduct of interstate legal practitioners if at least some of your dealings with that practitioner happened in Queensland. If your dealings happened elsewhere, the Legal Services Commission can still investigate the complaint provided both the legal practitioner in question and the Commission's counterpart body in the other state agree.
The Commission cannot accept complaints about government legal officers unless the complaint is made by the chief executive officer of the government department or agency that employs them, the Queensland Law Society or the Bar Association of Queensland, or another legal practitioner. So, if you have a complaint against a government legal officer, we suggest you contact the head of the department or agency concerned.
You can also complain about an "unlawful operator"; that is, a person who engages (or advertises that they engage) in legal practice when not entitled to do so.
Is there anything I should do before lodging a complaint?
Yes. Before you lodge a written complaint, you should consider less formal ways to resolve your problem. For example, an issue about the way in which your matter is being managed by a legal practitioner may be resolved by talking directly to the person concerned or a more senior person at the same firm. Our staff at the Legal Services Commission may also be able to help you resolve your concerns. Disputes about issues such as communication with your lawyer, delays in dealing with instructions, or legal costs, can sometimes be resolved by negotiation.
You should check, too, before you lodge a complaint, that it is the sort of complaint we can help you with (see the next question or telephone one of our Complaints Officers on 3406 7737 (Brisbane) or 1300 655 754 (outside Brisbane—cost of a local call) if you are unsure).
What sorts of conduct can be complained about?
There are some complaints the Commission will not be able to help you with. We are not a court of review, for example, and so we can not accept complaints about decisions of courts or tribunals; nor can we accept complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners other than their conduct in the practice of law. We can not accept complaints about their conduct in a private capacity, for example, or their conduct as an investment adviser or migration agent or member of parliament.
There are other complaints we may not be able to help you with. For more information go to The Commission's role in relation to complaints.
Is there a time limit on making complaints?
Generally, the Commission accepts complaints about conduct that has occurred within the past three years. Only in certain circumstances will matters older than three years be reviewed (see The Commission's role in relation to complaints).
Can I get help with making a complaint?
Yes. The Commission can help you if you have any queries or need help filling out the form. We can also arrange telephone interpreters or any other assistance if you need it.
Do I have to pay anything to make a complaint?
No. There is no charge to lodge a complaint. The Commission’s services are free.
Can my solicitor bill me for the time it takes to respond to my complaint?
Your legal practitioner should not charge you for the time it takes him or her to respond to your complaint. The Commission takes the view that legal practitioners are obliged to respond to any complaint against them, and that complainants should not be out of pocket for exercising their entitlement to complain.
What happens after I make my complaint?
The Commission will initially assess your complaint and, if further information is required, someone will call you or write to you. If your complaint is accepted by the Commission, it will be identified as either a consumer dispute or conduct complaint. The nature of the complaint determines whether the Commission will endeavour to resolve it by mediation or investigation.
The Commission may mediate or investigate your complaint or refer it to the Queensland Law Society or the Bar Association of Queensland. For more information see The Commission's role in relation to complaints.
Will the information I provide with my complaint be kept confidential?
Complaints to the Commission are confidential in that only those parties involved in the dispute or complaint are privy to the information. You should note, however, that your complaint will very likely be sent to the legal practitioner or law practice employee in question so he or she can respond. This is to ensure that both sides get a fair hearing. If the complaint is to be investigated, the Legal Profession Act 2007 requires that the Commission tells the legal practitioner or law practice employee what the complaint is about and who made it.
If you have concerns about the details of your complaint being disclosed to the legal practitioner in question, please tell the Commission.
Can I withdraw my complaint?
Yes. You can withdraw your complaint in person, by phone or in writing. However, you should be aware that withdrawing your complaint does not prevent the Commission from taking action on matters raised in your complaint on its own accord.
Can I be sued for making a complaint?
No. You are fully within your rights to make a complaint to the Commission. You have an absolute defence to any defamation action that might be threatened or taken against you provided that you made your complaint genuinely and in good faith.
You should bear in mind, however, that making a complaint may alter your relationship with your solicitor. To help matters, make sure your complaint is accurate and keep it about the practitioner’s conduct, not the practitioner personally. The Commission will do what it can to make sure your relationship with your solicitor remains professional and respectful.
Am I free to change solicitor?
Yes. You are free to change legal practitioner at any time, regardless of whether a complaint has been made against him or her. However, first consider whether changing solicitor at this stage of your legal proceedings is in your best interests.
You may have to pay your legal practitioner any money you owe him or her before you are able to obtain your file. You might also incur additional expense if you hire a new practitioner as they will need to read your file to get up to speed and may charge you for the time this takes. You might want to consider seeking independent legal advice before making a decision.
Can I get my paperwork back if I change solicitor?
Not necessarily. Your legal practitioner is entitled to claim a lien, that is, he or she has the right to keep any paperwork or other property you gave them until such time as you have paid all fees and expenses for work done to date.
How long will it take for my complaint to be resolved?
That depends on the nature of your complaint; the more complex or serious the matter, the longer it may take to investigate. All complaints received by the Commission are dealt with as quickly as possible but also thoroughly and fairly, and that sometimes takes time.
What happens if my complaint is successful?
The Commission will review all the evidence after your complaint has been investigated and decide if there is ‘a reasonable likelihood’ a disciplinary body will find the legal practitioner or law practice employee guilty of either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct (see factsheet 5 Discipline applications ).
If there is, and if it is in the public interest, the Commissioner will initiate disciplinary proceedings and prosecute the legal practitioner before either the Legal Practice Committee or, for more serious matters, the Legal Practice Tribunal (see The Queensland disciplinary bodies).
If the matter goes to the Committee or Tribunal, you will more than likely be required to give evidence—by way of affidavit in the first instance. You might also be required to give evidence in person at the hearing, and to be cross-examined.
The Commission will keep you fully informed about how your complaint investigation is progressing.
Can I get compensation?
Yes. The Legal Practice Tribunal and the Legal Practice Committee can both make a compensation order if they find the legal practitioner you complained about guilty of either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct and that you suffered pecuniary (money) loss because of that conduct (see factsheet 4 Compensation orders ).
You should be aware, however, that the Legal Profession Act 2007 limits the compensation that can be awarded for pecuniary loss under a compensation order to $7500, unless the parties agree otherwise. There are however other orders which might be made (for example, that a legal practitioner may not recover fees) to which the $7,500 limit does not apply. If your pecuniary losses are greater than $7500 you might need to consider other ways to recover them such as suing the legal practitioner for negligence. You are not prevented from taking action of this kind by having been awarded compensation. The Commission cannot give you advice about what options might be open to you however, and you will need to seek independent legal advice.
What if I am not happy with the Commission’s decision about my complaint?
The Commission is certainly interested in knowing if you are unhappy with the way your complaint was handled. We are happy to discuss your concerns with you and explain what was done and why. We will consider any new and relevant information you can provide and review our position if warranted.
If you are still dissatisfied, you can refer your concerns to the Ombudsman if you believe we made an administrative error of some kind. You can also challenge a decision we have made by seeking judicial review under the Judicial Review Act 1991 or you can refer your concerns to the Crime and Misconduct Commission if you suspect the Commissioner or staff of the Commission of official misconduct.
You can also seek independent legal advice about civil remedies that may be open to you.