If You Have a Problem With Your Lawyer
The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 436 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script explains what to do if you have a problem with your lawyer. You can also check the following scripts:
- 431, called “The Law Society, Bar Associations and Law Foundation”
- 435, called “Choosing a Lawyer”
- 438, called “Lawyers' Fees”
First, talk or write to your lawyer about the problem
Problems with lawyers usually involve miscommunication, fees, delays, or misconduct. If you have trouble with your lawyer, talk to the lawyer right away. You may be able to solve the problem before it gets too bad or delays your case. If you have trouble talking about the problem, put it in writing—by email or letter. If you don’t understand the lawyer’s response, ask for a written explanation.
File a complaint with the Law Society
If talking to your lawyer doesn’t work, you can complain to the Law Society, the organization that licenses all BC lawyers. It protects the public by setting professional standards of conduct and competence for lawyers. It also monitors, evaluates, and disciplines them. Its website section on complaints explains the details, including how to file a complaint.
If you find it hard to put your complaint in writing, ask a friend or advisor for help. In your letter, describe your connection with the lawyer. Give a history of the problem and include any other written material that explains it. Include the lawyer’s name and your address and phone number.
What the Law Society can do
The Law Society’s Professional Conduct Department has commercial crime investigators, forensic auditors, and lawyers. The Department reviews all complaints against lawyers as follows:
First, the Department decides if they have the authority to investigate your complaint. If not, they close the file. If they have the authority, they look into your complaint in detail. They can then send it to the Discipline Committee, which can:
- take no further action.
- send a conduct letter to the lawyer or order a conduct meeting or a conduct review.
- authorize the Executive Director to issue a citation, leading to a formal hearing.
- refer the lawyer (after a conduct review) to the Practice Standards Committee if the lawyer needs to upgrade skills.
Law Society discipline hearings are like court hearings—Law Society staff present the case against the lawyer and the lawyer gives his or her side of the case. A hearing can lead to any of the following results:
- A reprimand (a warning) of the lawyer.
- A fine up to $20,000.
- Conditions controlling how the lawyer works.
- Suspension of the lawyer from working as a lawyer or from working in one or more areas of law (with or without conditions) for a certain time.
- Disbarment of the lawyer (meaning the lawyer cannot work as a lawyer).
For more information on the complaint process, phone the Law Society at 604.669.2533 in the lower mainland and 1.800.903.5300 elsewhere in BC. Or see its website.
What the Law Society cannot do
The Law Society cannot:
- give legal advice.
- pay you money or order a lawyer to pay you money.
- change a court decision.
- find that a lawyer was negligent or control what a lawyer does in your case.
In those types of cases, you may want to get legal advice from another lawyer about your options.
Are Law Society decisions final?
Not always—in some cases you can appeal the Department’s decision if it decides not to act on your complaint. The appeal goes to the Complainants’ Review Committee—the Department can give you more information on this.
The Law Society can apply to its board of directors for a review of a hearing verdict. Both the Law Society and the lawyer can apply to the board for a review of a penalty. The lawyer also has the right to appeal either a verdict or penalty to the BC Court of Appeal.
Is your lawyer’s fee the problem?
Try either of the following two solutions for a fee problem that you and your lawyer can’t solve:
- You may be able to use the Law Society’s Fee Mediation Program for disputes between $1,000 and $25,000. It is free. This program works only if your lawyer agrees to use it. If so, the Law Society appoints a mediator to help you reach a settlement. Since the process is voluntary, it works only if you and your lawyer can agree on a settlement. Call the Law Society at 604.669.2533 in the lower mainland and 1.800.903.5300 elsewhere in BC. Or see its website.
- You can ask a Registrar of the BC Supreme Court to review the bill. This costs $80. Plus, you may have to pay your lawyer’s costs if you lose. There is no limit on the amount of the fee. You don’t need your lawyer’s agreement to use this process. You have one year from the date of the bill to apply to the registrar—if you have not already paid it. But if you have already paid the bill, you must apply within three months of paying it. The Registrar holds a hearing where you and your lawyer each give your side of the case. Then the Registrar decides what the fee will be.
For more information on lawyers’ fees, check script 438, called “Lawyers’ Fees”.
[updated March 2018]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Steven Gjukich and edited by John Blois.
Dial-A-Law© is a library of legal information available by:
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- audio and text, on the CBA BC Branch website.
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The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Dial-A-Law is funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia and sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.
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