Can Lawyers Afford to Ignore the Law Society?


Can Lawyers Afford to Ignore the Law Society?

What should a lawyer do when they receive notification from the Law Society that someone has made a complaint about them, or that they are otherwise the subject of an investigation? First, they should not panic. Second, they should take the matter seriously, even if they think the matter is minor, frivolous, or unwarranted. Third, they should respond to the Law Society. Why? Because if they do not respond, the Law Society has the power to act on their failure to do so.

The Legal Profession Act (“LPA”) makes it clear that the Law Society’s primary objective is to protect the public interest. To do this effectively, the Law Society must rely on lawyers to respond to its inquiries. This is accomplished through Rules 3-5(7) and 3-5(11) of the Law Society Rules and Section 7.1-1 of the Code of Professional Conduct, which place a positive duty on lawyers to cooperate with investigations, respond promptly to the Law Society’s inquiries, and to provide it with any documents and information it requests.

When lawyers fail to respond, or fail to respond adequately, the Law Society can take disciplinary action. The Law Society may issue a citation against the lawyer for their failure to respond and eventually there will be a hearing of the citation. This will likely result a finding of professional misconduct and a penalty.

Alternatively, the Law Society can take administrative action and issue an administrative suspension under Rule 3-6 of the Law Society Rules. Under this rule, the Law Society must give a lawyer at least seven days of notice of the suspension, and if the lawyer fails to respond by the deadline, they will be suspended.

An administrative suspension is a quicker and more effective way for the Law Society to ensure compliance with the rules. A suspended lawyer is not entitled to do anything that is considered the “practice of law” (which is defined in Section 1 of the LPA). Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Speaking or meeting with clients about client matters;
  • Working on client matters;
  • Signing correspondence or any other communication (e.g., emails) under designation of “Barrister & Solicitor”;
  • Supervising staff; and
  • Indicating or implying they are qualified or entitled to practice law in any public communications, such as firm websites, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Suspended lawyers must also comply with Rule 4-47(3) and, among other things, inform all clients with active matters about the suspension and the steps they have taken to protect the clients’ interests during the suspension period.

An administrative suspension is inconvenient, results in lost income, and can be very embarrassing for lawyers. Since there are very few tasks suspended lawyers are permitted to do, they must be careful because if they do anything that is considered the “practice of law,” they may also face potential disciplinary action for practising while suspended.

If you are involved in a Law Society complaint or investigation, you cannot afford to ignore the Law Society. Do not exacerbate things by failing to respond. Investigations are not limited to the issues arising from the original complaint or concerns, and the tone, content, and substance of your responses matter. Consider retaining or getting advice from counsel experienced in Law Society matters before responding, especially because your livelihood may be at risk. Having objective advice can make responding to the Law Society easier and less stressful, help you stay focused on the issues, and make the process more efficient