Communications with the Law Society

Communications from the Law Society

Rule 7.1-1 of the Code of Conduct states: “A lawyer must reply promptly and completely to any communication from the Society.” For an illustration, see In Re Dobbin, [1999] LSBC 27 at para. 20 where the Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia put the duty to respond to communications from the Law Society in context:
“If the Law Society cannot count on prompt, candid, and complete replies by members to its communications it will be unable to uphold and protect the public interest, which is the Law Society’s paramount duty. The duty to reply to communications from the Law Society is at the heart of the Law Society’s regulation of the practice of law and it is essential to the Law Society’s mandate to uphold and protect the interest of its members. If members could ignore communications from the Law Society, the profession would not be governed but would be in a state of anarchy.”
They went on to observe at para. 25:
“Frequently, the member’s failure to respond to Law Society communications is a sequel to a prior, frustrating failure to respond to client communications or to other lawyers’ communications. Procrastination in responding to the Law Society, or willful failure to respond to the Law Society, may be symptomatic of other practice problems involving delay on files or other dereliction of professional duty. The Law Society is put in an impossible position in dealing with disgruntled clients or disgruntled other lawyers, by a member’s intransigent failure to respond. There is no doubt whatever that a persistent, intransigent failure to respond to Law Society communications brings the legal profession into disrepute. As a result, it is the decision of the Benchers that unexplained persistent failure to respond to Law Society communications will always be prima facie evidence of professional misconduct which throws upon the Respondent member a persuasive burden to excuse his or her conduct. ”
If you receive a communication from the Law Society that requires a response, consider this advice:
  • Do not ignore the communication! This is not a circumstance where it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. If you require additional time to respond, contact the Law Society staff lawyer who initiated the investigation and explain your circumstances. Extensions will normally be granted.  If you are granted additional time to respond, make sure you respond within that time. In any event, properly diarize the matter to ensure you respond, and that you do so within the time requested for a response.
  • Consider whether you need to seek the advice of counsel. One of the advantages of seeking advice from a colleague, or retaining counsel before responding, is that it provides an objective perspective. It is prudent to seek advice of counsel in circumstances where the Law Society has requested a written response.
  • Remember that the majority of complaints the Law Society receives about lawyers do not lead to disciplinary measures. By failing to respond to a communication regarding a complaint the Law Society might determine is unfounded, or outside its jurisdiction, a lawyer turns a potential problem into an actual problem. Do not make a neutral situation bad, or a bad situation worse, by failing to respond in a timely manner to Law Society communications.
  • Review your response to ensure the tone and content are appropriate. While you do not want to fail to respond, or delay in responding, you should avoid improper responses. Pause, reflect, and craft a measured response.
  • In your response, stick to the facts and strive for accuracy – this is not the time to show how many adjectives you know.
  • If the complaint involves allegations of negligence, contact the Professional Liability Reserve Fund.  Note: Your obligations in this respect are not contingent on a complaint occurring; see rule 7.8-2 of the Code of Conduct. The terms of the insurance policy trigger a lawyer’s obligation to report potential claims to the insurer; rule 7.8-1 of the Code of Conduct establishes the duty to report to the client.
If you follow these steps you will, at the least, avoid a complaint for failing to respond to the Law Society. In responding to complaints, you should be candid, cooperative, and contrite. At the same time, if you do not agree with the complaint, you will wish to provide valid reasons explaining why you do not agree.  It is perfectly acceptable to strongly state your position in this regard. 

Complaining about another lawyer

Unless you are dealing with a situation where you are required to report another lawyer to the Law Society (see rule 7.1-3 of the Code of Conduct), you should seriously consider whether you should file a complaint to the Law Society about another lawyer. Assess whether the situation is something that can be managed through effective communication with the other lawyer. Try to resolve impasses by being constructive. Consider whether filing a complaint will jeopardize your client’s position by making the other lawyer antagonistic, obstinate, or intentionally cause delay. You may wish to wait until the client matter is resolved. You may also wish to discuss the situation with the Registrar of Complaints who may provide assistance. 
Under no circumstances should you threaten a lawyer contrary to rule 3.2-5 of the Code of Conduct or make complaints to the Law Society in an effort to improve your client’s position. The purpose of making the complaint is because you reasonably believe the other lawyer has engaged in conduct that falls below the requisite standard of the profession, not to improve your client’s position, to settle a grudge, or to make life difficult for the other lawyer.