What do I do if I get a Complaint from the Law Society of Ontario?
REPLY! RESPOND! ANSWER THE COMPLAINT.
Every week in the Ontario Reports, you see at least one tribunal decision where a respondent gets disciplined for not responding. It's written as not co-operating, but the co-operation is essentially answering and providing anything necessary for the Law Society to investigate. It is essential to address all the issues in the Complaint.
Understand the Law Society's Mandate and why they need to send a complaint letter
The Law Society of Ontario regulates in the public interest. So, while you're a member and pay them, you are paying them to police you. Being regulated is a good thing. It means credibility, integrity; the public can trust you and rely on you. The mechanism of regulation means you are subject to rules, and the public can count on you.
The downside is that the Law Society has to deal with every Complaint even when it may seem to you to be frivolous. There are checks and balances to vet the complaints, and understanding them will help you better deal with them.
Who at the Law Society sent you the letter?
The Law Society must investigate complaints, but before the LSO can investigate them, they must get instructions to investigate. The vetting process. One of three things will happen.
1. The Complaint does not raise any issues of Professional Misconduct, and it will be closed.
2. The Complaint raises minor issues of Professional Misconduct, and it will go to Intake & Complaint Resolution.
3. The Complaint raises more than minor issues of Professional Misconduct, and it goes to Investigations.
When the Complaint does not Raise any Issues of Professional Misconduct
If the Complaint does not raise Professional Misconduct issues, then the Law Society will send you a letter explaining they received the Complaint, but that they have closed the file and that you do not have to respond. It will also state that the complainant can go to the Ombudsman to challenge the decision to close the file. In most cases, this is the end of the matter, so if the letter you received is one of these types of letters, then not to worry. Create a file for the Law Society's response, save it, and then close your file.
Do take a moment to ask yourself why the client complained and if there is anything you could have done differently to avoid the Complaint. Prevention is better than cure, and who wants that heart-pounding feeling again? Treat it as a learning lesson.
Law Society of Ontario Intake and Resolution
Suppose your letter came from the Law Society's Intake & Resolution department. In that case, it typically means that minor issues may exist where an investigation is not necessary, but you must take some corrective action.
There is no setlist of what the Law Society considers minor or resulting in your Complaint falling into this category. Taking a heuristic approach to this and using my experience doing discipline cases, the Law Society weighs the nature of the misconduct, the licensee's discipline history, its mandate to protect the public, and the potential harm the misconduct caused. There could be other factors; however, if you fall into this category, the Law Society will deal with the Complaint and the file closed in short order.
Law Society of Ontario Investigation
The third category is not as easy but not fatal. In many cases, the Complaint reads much worse than what happened. In almost all cases where a client has complained, you'll have to turn over your file to the Law Society investigator.
Don't Go it Alone
If you receive a complaint, it could be nothing. It could be something. Regardless of what happened, get legal advice from someone who practices discipline work. Have someone objective and not emotionally involved navigate the process with you.
If you are the subject of a complaint, Call us Today! (416) 925-2400