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Types of complaints

The Legal Profession Act 2007 requires the Commission to assess complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners and law practice employees as either consumer disputes or conduct complaints.

There is often a fine line between a consumer dispute and conduct complaint. We must sometimes make a judgement call based on the available evidence.

What is a consumer dispute?

Consumer disputes are complaints about conduct that does not involve an issue of 'unsatisfactory professional conduct' or 'professional misconduct'.

Consumer disputes might be about:

  • lack of communication or rudeness
  • delays
  • costs
  • liens (a legal practitioner’s right to keep a client’s property until he or she pays the legal practitioner’s fees and disbursements)

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What is a conduct complaint?

These are complaints that allege 'unsatisfactory professional conduct' or 'professional misconduct'.

There is often a fine line between unsatisfactory professional conduct and professional misconduct and, once again, we must sometimes make a judgement call based on the available evidence.

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What is unsatisfactory professional conduct?

Unsatisfactory professional conduct is conduct ‘happening in connection with the practice of law that falls short of the standard of competence and diligence that a member of the public is entitled to expect of a reasonably competent Australian legal practitioner’.

Unsatisfactory professional conduct complaints might be about:

  • poor service
  • a failure to comply with an undertaking
  • a failure to adequately supervise an employee such as a conveyancing clerk
  • threatening, abusive or offensive language
  • failure to follow instructions (due to poor communication, for example).

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What is professional misconduct?

Professional misconduct is either ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct which involves a substantial or consistent failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard or competence and diligence’ or conduct ‘happening in connection with the practice of law or otherwise that would, if established, justify a finding that the practitioner is not a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice’.

Professional misconduct complaints might be about:

  • consistent or substantial unsatisfactory professional conduct
  • fraud or misappropriation
  • gross overcharging
  • gross negligence
  • conflicts of interest
  • acting contrary to instructions
  • misleading or dishonest conduct whether in or outside court.

Professional misconduct can also include being convicted of a serious criminal offence, a tax offence or an offence involving dishonesty, or being disqualified from managing or being involved in the management of a corporation under the Corporations Act.

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Last reviewed
31 January 2014
Last updated
31 January 2014

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