The Law Society has published its annual report. Picture/file
Last week, the Law Society released its 2021 annual report, which for the first time included full financial statements. While at first I was excited, expecting there to be juicy material – there
was very logistical, endless and well, legal.
But, the inclusion of these financial statements is symbolic of a change that one can only hope will continue, namely a commitment to transparency.
The profession is growing and the number of lawyers with certificates of practice has increased by 4% to 15,842. The number of admissions and character certificates – which are kills to get in my humble opinion and dated – increased by 21 and 24% respectively from 2020.
The increase in the number of requests has created a commensurate increase in the workload of the registry and branch team, the report reads. The Law Society said it is prioritizing investments in the Registry to make the Law Society’s Registry features and functionality more efficient for users in the future.
Complaints in numbers
Following changes to the Lawyer Conduct and Client Care Rules in July last year, the Law Society saw an increase in complaints related to bullying, harassment and discrimination.
There were 1,375 complaints in the year 2021. About 40% of the complaints were about breaches of customer service rules, 29% about negligence and 26% about the price of legal services, namely the ” overbilling”. A total of 69 complaints related to bullying, 44 to allegations of harassment and 8 to allegations of discrimination.
Most of the complaints (593) come from customers and former customers. In addition, there were 191 customers on the “other side”. There were 45 complaints filed by lawyers and 271 by a third party.
The standardization committees opened 90 ex officio investigations. Typically, these are triggered by reports or other mechanisms that do not stem from direct complaints.
Confidentiality restrictions as they exist under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act mean that certain parties – namely victims – may be excluded from the process, which is one of the reasons the Law Society has proposed changes to the transparency mechanisms of the Act. From a journalistic point of view, I am absolutely delighted with this prospect.
Outcome of complaints
A total of 79 complaints were brought before the Disciplinary Tribunal for Lawyers and Conveyors, which is entirely independent of the Bar. Two lawyers were struck off and 10 were suspended. These two lawyers have been appointed.
Under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act, the Law Society must reimburse the Crown for the costs of a hearing when a court hears a charge. Last year, the Law Society reimbursed a total of $97,066.
During the year under review, nearly 80% of complaints were not upheld. A total of 164 resulted in orders being issued by a standards committee, 20 were either withdrawn, discontinued or settled, 47 were settled by negotiation, conciliation or mediation. There were 954 outstanding complaints as of June 30, 2021.
Of closed complaints, 19% took over a year, 81% took a year, 70% were resolved within nine months, 53% were resolved within six months, 23 were resolved within three months . For standard track complaints, each took 308 days.
Complaints involving a substantial volume of documents can be complex and the Lawyers Complaints Service also relies on substantial pro bono input from the profession, the report says.
For context, the case involving Russell McVeagh’s former partner, James Gardner-Hopkins, took three years to be heard before the Independent Barristers and Conveyors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Standards Committee – the Law Society’s arm of the process – has since appealed the court’s decision to impose a two-year suspension, asking for his removal.
Given that the breach occurred in December 2015 and January 2016, it has been six years and the process is still ongoing. The impact on all parties, especially the women involved, must be hideous.
According to the annual report: “The Law Society is working on ways to improve the timeliness of our complaints service, including the prompt resolution of complaints. The Law Society has set up an investigation unit and is reviewing its early resolution service.
Where to go from here?
More people are coming forward, more people are becoming lawyers, and while the Law Society is committed to improving its systems through independent review and changes to the Lawyers and Conveyors Act, only time will tell – and hopefully it won’t be long.