Society staff will review your complaint to determine how it should be handled. They may also determine that the complaint is not appropriate for investigation. In that case, you will receive a letter explaining why.
Staff may suggest an attempt to resolve the complaint through dispute resolution. Both you and your lawyer must agree to this approach. If the complaint is resolved, a letter will confirm the results. If it is not resolved, or if more serious problems are discovered, the complaint may be investigated further. The Society may also refer a complaint directly to the lawyer’s law firm to see if the firm can help, and will follow up in these cases to ensure you are satisfied with the outcome.
Investigation of complaints
If your complaint is investigated, a copy will be sent to the lawyer, who must respond in writing, usually within 10 days. In most cases, you will receive a copy of the lawyer’s response.
You will not be required to testify at the investigation stage, but the Society may contact you for further information or a recorded interview. All investigations are confidential. Following the investigation, staff may decide that based on the evidence, the complaint will be dismissed. You will receive a detailed decision. You can request a review of the decision within 30 days.
If the complaint is not dismissed by staff, the Complaints Investigation Committee examines the evidence and determines whether the lawyer has breached any of our standards of conduct. It can dismiss a complaint or advise, counsel, caution or reprimand the lawyer. It also has emergency powers to deal quickly with serious problems in the interests of protecting the public, such as temporary suspension or restriction of the lawyer’s practice. The Committee cannot order the lawyer to pay a complainant for loss or damage. Where there is evidence that a lawyer may be suffering from an incapacity, the Committee may refer the lawyer to the Fitness to Practise program.
The Society’s Hearing Committee, which sits in panels of three to five members, holds hearings that are open to the public to consider charges of professional misconduct, conduct unbecoming a lawyer, incompetence and incapacity. Notices of hearings are posted on our website at least seven days before a hearing. A lawyer representing the Society prosecutes the charges. The lawyer who has been charged may also be represented by a lawyer. You may be required as a witness at the discipline hearing but you will likely not need your own lawyer. The Society’s counsel will help you understand the process.
If the Hearing Panel finds the charges against a lawyer to be proven, it can reprimand, fine, impose conditions on practice, suspend or disbar the lawyer. The Hearing Panel generally does not have the authority to order the lawyer to pay any money to a complainant for loss or damage incurred. The Society will inform you in writing of the decision, and publish the decision to other lawyers. Hearing decisions and dispositions on the merits of the case are posted on the Society’s website within 60 days of completion of the hearing. A public notice is published whenever a lawyer is suspended or disbarred.
Lawyers' Fund for Client Compensation
The Society's Lawyers' Fund for Client Compensation is a discretionary fund maintained through annual contributions from lawyers in Nova Scotia, for the purpose of compensating those persons who have sustained a loss through the misappropriation or conversion of funds entrusted to their lawyer in the lawyer’s professional capacity.