Resolution of Complaints
Complaints Resolution Officers are lawyers trained in mediation and can informally resolve complaints.
When they receive a complaint from the intake officers, they respond by telephone or in writing.
If appropriate, they contact the lawyer for a response and take steps to resolve the issue. Complaints Resolution Officers resolve complaints if they find there has been:
- no breach of the Code of Conduct or
- a minor breach, and that the lawyer has taken steps to rectify the problem to the complainant’s satisfaction
A formal complaint is made when the Complaints Resolution Officer refers the matter to the Complaints Manager because:
- there is a concern that the lawyer has breached the Code of Conduct and the complaint cannot be resolved, or
- the complainant does not feel the complaint has been resolved
The Complaints Manager then formally requires the lawyer to provide a written response to the complaint and reviews all relevant documents.
If, after reviewing all relevant information, the Complaints Manager determines that the lawyer has not breached the Code of Conduct, the complaint is dismissed and the complainant will receive a written explanation of that decision along with information on how to appeal the dismissal.
Sometimes, the information provided to the Complaints Manager by the complainant and the lawyer is insufficient to complete the review of the lawyer's conduct. In those cases, the complaint may be formally investigated with the interview of different witnesses and the gathering of additional documents.
Once the investigation has been completed, the Complaints Manager may either dismiss the complaint, in which case the complainant will receive a written explanation, or may submit a report to the Conduct Committee Panel summarizing all of the information that has been gathered with recommendations as to the next steps to be taken in the disciplinary process.
Conduct Committee Panel
The Conduct Committee Panel consists of three lawyers who are members of the Law Society’s Conduct Committee. The panel reviews the Complaints Manager’s report and all the evidence provided. The panel determines whether or not the complaint should be dismissed. If it is dismissed, a letter with reasons for the dismissal is sent to the complainant and the lawyer.
If the panel determines that the lawyer acted improperly, but doesn’t feel a hearing is warranted, the panel has the option of directing a mandatory conduct advisory in which the lawyer meets with a lawyer who is a Board director (Bencher) to discuss the misconduct and ensure the lawyer:
- understands that the conduct was inappropriate;
- will not repeat the behaviour; and
- is apologetic.
If those objectives are achieved, the mandatory conduct advisory is considered successful and the complaint is dismissed. The mandatory conduct advisory is not disclosed to the public.
When a conduct committee panel determines that a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred and that sufficient information or evidence exists to send the matter forward, the panel will call for a hearing and recommend the charges or ‘citations’ that the lawyer will face at the hearing.
A formal complaint may lead to a hearing in front of a committee of three Directors (Benchers), which may include:
- witness testimony,
- submissions from legal counsel representing the Law Society, and
- submissions from legal counsel for the lawyer, or the lawyer if not represented.
The hearing is conducted like a trial with similar rules of evidence, disclosure, and burden of proof. The hearing committee determines the lawyer’s guilt or innocence.
If the lawyer is guilty of the charge, penalties can be imposed including: a reprimand, fine, suspension, disbarment and costs of the hearing. The lawyer can appeal the conviction.
A conviction is listed on the lawyer’s record and upon written request, will be disclosed to any person.
The Law Society of Alberta is committed to this process to ensure that it serves in the public interest and that the public is protected.