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How the complaints process works

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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 your lawyer or law practice to resolve your differences, where appropriate.

For most of the complaints made to us, we will answer your questions, give you information that might help you to resolve your concerns yourself, and if needed, work with you and your lawyer to reach a fair outcome.

For some disputes, you and your lawyer may need more support to reach a settlement, and we can help by offering alternative dispute resolution tools like mediation.

Our service is free of charge and our staff don’t take sides. 

When providing our service, we need all parties to negotiate ‘in good faith’. This means communicating with each other honestly and fairly with the genuine aim of understanding each other's views and reaching an agreement. It also involves behaving in an open and transparent manner, compromising where appropriate, and providing accurate information – and enough of it – within the context of discussions. 

The complaints process can take weeks or months to reach a final result, depending on the situation.


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.

Formal charges

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 orders

Compensation is only payable under certain 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.

Closing complaints

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.

Other complaints

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 additional information about complaints, see our How to lodge a complaint page.

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