Filing a Complaint
“Standards of professional ethics form the backdrop for everything lawyers do. In adhering to codes of conduct, we uphold the long-standing values of our profession and ensure protection of the public.” [President’s Message, CBA Code of Professional Conduct (2009)]
Lawyers and Students-at-Law are required to uphold a high standard of conduct in their professional and personal lives. As such, one of the Law Society's responsibilities is the investigation of complaints regarding the conduct of lawyers practising in the Northwest Territories.
If you believe a lawyer has been unprofessional, or has behaved in a manner unbecoming of a legal professional, you are invited to file a complaint with the Law Society. All complaints made to the Law Society are taken seriously, and every attempt is made to deal with them in a fair and expeditious manner.
Please complete and sign the Law Society Complaint Form. Describe your complaint using as much detail as possible. Please stick to the facts: avoid personal opinions, non-factual statements and open accusations.
[The Law Society staff can assist those unable to complete the form by interviewing a complainant and obtaining an oral complaint.]
The Complaints Process
The complaint process begins once you complete, sign and submit your Complaint Form to the Law Society office. This form, with all documents relevant to the complaint, is sent to the Chair of the Discipline Committee and will be used to assist the Discipline Committee in dealing effectively and efficiently with the matter.
The Chair of the Discipline Committee (the “Chair”) will review the complaint to ensure it is within the jurisdiction of the Law Society. If it is, the Chair will provide you and the lawyer (or Student-at-Law) with the relevant sections of the Legal Profession Act and the Rules of the Law Society of the Northwest Territories. The Chair will determine whether or not to conduct an investigation personally, or to assign the matter to a member of the Discipline Committee. The Chair will also forward a copy of your complaint to the lawyer and request a written response from the lawyer within a specified period of time. (Failure to respond with a specified amount of time may constitute conduct deserving of discipline.)
Once the lawyer’s response is received, it will be evaluated by the assigned investigator. If appropriate and necessary, a copy of the response will be forwarded to you for further comments. After the necessary material has been reviewed, the investigator will report to the Chair, and the Chair will determine one of the following:
- That the complaint be dismissed for lack of evidence of unprofessional or unbecoming conduct; or
- That the lawyer appear before a member (or members) of the Discipline Committee for advice and direction in respect of conduct which may not be in the interest of the public or the profession. (In this case, the Chair is of the opinion that the matter does not constitute professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.); or
- That the complaint be the subject of an inquiry before a Sole Inquirer or a Committee of Inquiry.
If the complaint becomes the subject of an inquiry, the Law Society’s counsel will prosecute the lawyer and you will become a witness in the proceedings. Prior to the hearing, a public notice will be posted as per Law Society policy and, once the hearing has been concluded and a decision reached, all persons with a legitimate interest in the matter will be advised.
It is important to note that this inquiry, or hearing, is open to the public. This means the matters before the Inquiry are not confidential. If you have any concerns about the use of your complaint and materials, please contact the Law Society to determine whether privilege or confidentiality requirements may apply.
If you have further questions with respect to this process, please contact the Law Society.
Jurisdiction & Limitations
The Law Society does not have jurisdiction to deal with fee disputes between you and your lawyer. The Courts can advise you of this “taxation” process.
The Law Society is not able to demand or obtain compensation from the lawyer as a result of any financial loss you have suffered. You will be advised of the civil process available to you under those circumstances.
The Law Society cannot provide legal advice or services, nor can it appoint a lawyer for you. You can find a listing of available lawyers on our Lawyer Referral Service.
The Law Society’s discipline process, or complaint process, is limited to its members. However, the Law Society has a mandate to protect the public, and the profession, from lawyers (or non-lawyers) practicing law without a license. If you believe a person giving legal advice or providing legal services is not a member of this Law Society, you are encouraged to report them to the Law Society. For more information, please see Unauthorized Practice.
The Discipline Committee
The Discipline Committee is made up of Law Society members in good standing. Committee members must be engaged in the practice of law for a minimum of three years in the Territories, where the member is a resident, or for a minimum of five years, where the member is a non-resident. Also, they must not have been found guilty of conduct deserving of discipline within five years prior to an appointment to the Committee.
Sole Inquirer or Committee of Inquiry?
If a complaint requires an inquiry, or hearing, the Chair will appoint either a Sole Inquirer or a Committee of Inquiry.
A Committee of Inquiry will be appointed under the following conditions:
- The lawyer, if found guilty, may be struck from the Law Society Roll, suspended, or be fined an amount exceeding $2,000.
- It is in the public’s interest that the matter be inquired into by a Committee of Inquiry.
Otherwise, a Sole Inquirer will be appointed to hear the case.
An inquiry is similar to a court proceeding, wherein a Sole Inquirer or a Committee of Inquiry is similar to a Judge, and the Law Society and the lawyer have obtained counsel to argue their case.