I was told early on in my career that you haven’t truly become a lawyer unless you’ve received a request to respond to a complaint or investigation with the Law Society. This didn’t really fill me with feelings of wonder or eager anticipation. And yet odds are that you are now more likely than ever to receive a complaint from the Law Society. So what does one do when a complaint lands upon your desk? Here are ten suggestions on how to deal with a complaint:
You have a duty to respond promptly (Rule 6.02 of the Rules of Professional Conduct). Normally, you are given about 3 weeks to respond. If you require more time, request an extension well in advance of the deadline. Most reasonable requests for an extension are granted in my experience.
If it is not provided, request a copy of the original complaint and any supporting documentation the complainant provided to the Law Society. If you do not have a copy of the original complaint, indicate this in your response. If your response is relied upon later in the process, it should be clear what information was available to you at the time you prepared your response.
All communications you have with the Law Society will be recorded in some way. If you are unable to keep a level head with the Society, have a third party contact them on your behalf.
While this may be obvious, keep copies of your response, fax transmission sheets, telephone messages, and other forms of contact with the Society so that you have a record should an issue arise regarding the quality of your cooperation.
Providing evidence which corroborates your position can be quite helpful. Obtain transcripts, court documents, witness statements, a copy of your calendar, etc. and provide them along with your response.
Your written response will likely be provided to the complainant for comment. Solicitor/client privilege does not bar you from providing privileged information in your response to the Society. If you feel there is information which should not be shared with the complainant but which is integral to your response, provide that information in a separate letter, indicating it is not to be shared.
Where appropriate, provide a history of your relationship with the complainant and of the file as it gives context to the complaint.
The investigator may wish to interview you after having received your response. You are required to cooperate, even if there are outstanding criminal charges. Your response may be put to you during the interview, or later at a hearing. Make sure you are clear and accurate in your response. If you cannot clearly recall an event, but believe it occurred, indicate so.
If you are providing books and records, review them with your bookkeeper or accountant before you provide them to the Law Society so that you can ensure you understand and explain them.
If you choose to respond without the assistance of counsel, have a trusted colleague review your response before you submit it. A complaint may feel like a personal attack and having an unbiased third party review the matter can be of great assistance.
Your response is likely the Law Society’s first “contact” with you. It should be a reflection of you. Seriously consider retaining counsel to provide an objective assessment and a professional detached response. This will prevent you from providing an unsubstantiated response based on memory alone just simply to get the matter over with. Your response is a reflection of you.
*This article relies upon my previous article published in For the Defence, a newsletter for the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.