Complain about conduct and behaviour
This page covers a range of complaints you may have about the conduct or behaviour of a lawyer. This might involve their behaviour towards you, their professional performance in court, their handling of money or property you have given them or a range of other concerns. Your complaint might be about a specific lawyer or a law practice.
Before you make a complaint
It is best to try to resolve the issue with the lawyer first. Most complaints can be settled by raising your concerns directly with the lawyer. If you have tried and still cannot fix the problem, we can help. Call us or email us to discuss your complaint.
Tel: 1300 796 344
If you prefer, you can come in and discuss your concerns with us in person. Our address details are located on the Contact Us page.
Time limits for complaints about conduct and behaviour
The law imposes time limits on making a complaint. If you have a complaint, we suggest you act on it as quickly as possible.
If you are unhappy with the conduct or behaviour of a lawyer or law practice, you have 3 years to make a complaint. If your complaint is older than this, we may still be able to accept your complaint under very limited circumstances. Please call us to discuss your concerns
Who can make a complaint about conduct and behaviour
Anyone may make a complaint about a lawyer or law practice’s conduct or behaviour. You do not need to be their client.
We can usually only accept complaints about a lawyer’s conduct or behaviour if the problem is connected to their role as a lawyer. While we cannot accept complaints about a lawyer’s personal life (for example, a dispute between neighbours), there may be other issues we can deal with. Please contact us to discuss your concerns further.
There may be other limitations that affect whether we can accept a complaint. Please call our office to discuss your concerns before you make a formal complaint.
How the complaints process works
What information do we need?
We need certain information from you before we can look at your complaint.
We will ask you to provide:
- your contact details
- the name and contact details of the lawyer or law practice you are complaining about
- a description of what happened in date order
- the names and contact details of any witnesses, if relevant.
We may ask for more information later.
What we do
We will try to help you and the lawyer or the law practice to resolve your differences where it is appropriate to do so. Our service is free and our staff are impartial, meaning that we do not take sides. We need all parties to negotiate in good faith, which means being prepared to understand the views of the other party and to compromise on certain issues, where appropriate. The process can take weeks or months to reach a final result.
If we cannot help you resolve the matter, and if it is appropriate, we can carry out a formal investigation. This will not automatically result in the lawyer or law practice being disciplined. Rather, it is a search to obtain the facts of the matter.
Please note that we decide whether any disciplinary action is warranted according to clear criteria set out under the law and previous court and tribunal decisions.
After an investigation, if we find it is appropriate we can make a legally-binding order against the lawyer or law practice called a ‘determination’. These determinations include requirements for what the lawyer or law practice must do to remedy your complaint. This could include a requirement for:
- the lawyer or law practice to redo the work;
- the lawyer or law practice to apologise to you;
- the lawyer to undertake counselling, supervision or further training;
- the lawyer to be cautioned or reprimanded; and/or
- compensation to be paid (up to $25,000 and only under limited circumstances).
The determination might also formally caution or reprimand the lawyer.
If we make a determination on your complaint, we will fully explain what this means to you. Examples of previous determinations are available on our Commissioner Determinations page.
In certain circumstances, instead of making a determination we may decide to bring disciplinary charges against the lawyer or law practice. In this case the lawyer or law practice would be required to appear before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a hearing.
We will keep you informed throughout any investigation, and we will let you know what the outcome is.
Compensation is only payable under very limited circumstances. We are only able to order compensation if an investigation shows that you have lost money as a direct result of the lawyer’s conduct, and if it is in the interests of justice that we make the order. VCAT may also make an order that compensation be paid, if the matter progresses that far.
Please note: compensation is not payable for:
- the amount you think the Court would have ordered in your favour had the lawyer dealt differently with the matter; or
- other speculative losses.
Tell us if you believe the lawyer should pay you compensation. Tell us how much you think should be paid, and why. You will need to provide proof of any loss you have suffered and details of why you think the lawyer’s actions led directly to that loss. We will explain to you what proof we need. We will then assess if compensation is payable, and we will let you know.
The law requires that compensation is payable only where it is fair and reasonable. If granted, the amount may be different from what you asked for.
We are also able to close either part of a complaint, or the whole complaint, without taking any action. We can also limit our investigation to certain issues, if appropriate. We would do this only under certain circumstances, such as if parts of or the whole complaint is unfounded, if we assess that the complaint is best heard by VCAT, or if either party refuses to participate in good faith in our dispute resolution process.
Your complaint might involve other matters in addition to the conduct or behaviour of the lawyer or law practice .We can also receive complaints about legal costs or your bill and the quality of service you received from your lawyer. We handle these types of complaints in different ways.
For information on complaints about legal costs or the bill you received from your lawyer, see our Complain about legal costs and bills page.
For information on complaints about quality of service, see our Complain about quality of service page.
Our fact sheets can give you further information on your rights when working with lawyers
- Meeting a lawyer – your first appointment (151KB PDF)
- Working with your lawyer (207KB PDF)
- Non-legal services provided by lawyers (147KB PDF)
- Do you have a problem with your lawyer? (321KB PDF)
- Negligence and Complaints (145KB PDF)
- Making a claim against the Fidelity Fund (154KB PDF)