Regulatory Authorities: The 14 law societies in Canada regulate the work of lawyers and paralegals in their province or territory. Independent from the government, these societies are in place to ensure that legal professionals act honourably and competently. If you have a complaint that falls within the society’s jurisdiction, it will be investigated and there is a possibility the lawyer or paralegal could be disciplined, if warranted.
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What is a law society?
Every legal professional in Canada is required by the province or territory they practise in to be a member of a law society and to be governed by its rules. According to the Our Members statement from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, there are 14 provincial (two in Quebec) and territorial law societies that govern more than 136,000 lawyers, Quebec’s 4,200 notaries and Ontario’s 10,600 independent paralegals. An underlying principle of Canada’s legal system is that the public has the right to obtain legal advice and be represented by a legal profession that is independent of the government. For that reason, Canadian laws provide for the self-regulation of the legal profession.
What do law societies do?
The function of any law society is to regulate the legal profession and make sure its members are acting in the public interest. Each society is established by provincial and territorial legislation and each has a mandate to ensure that legal practitioners meet standards of competence and professional conduct. Each society sets the rules for admission to the profession and regulates the conduct of members, along with auditing and monitoring the use of trust accounts held for clients. Societies also investigate complaints and discipline members who violate standards of conduct.
How do I make a complaint about a lawyer?
Each society has instructions about how to launch a complaint against a legal professional on its website. Also included are general guidelines to help you decide if a complaint is warranted, often suggesting that you talk to your lawyer or another member of their firm about any concerns. “Most lawyers and paralegals want to solve problems before they become complaints,” the Law Society of Ontario website states in How to Make a Complaint.
What type of complaints will law societies address?
Any breach of the rules or a failure to act ethically and competently might be a legitimate basis for a complaint to a law society. For example, the Types of Complaints page of the Law Society of Alberta notes that it will deal with:
- allegations of physical, sexual or other assault and/or harassment;
- alleged misuse of trust funds;
- conduct that is criminal in nature;
- a failure of timely and effective communication or if the lawyer is not following your instruction;
- an unreasonable delay in moving a legal matter forward;
- if your lawyer refuses to give you a detailed statement of fees and disbursements charged;
- a conflict of interest;
- the failures to return your file at the end of the solicitor/client relationship; and
- if confidential information was disclosed without your consent.
What type of complaints will law societies not address?
While all concerns brought to the attention of a law society will be reviewed, there are some complaints that do not fall within its jurisdiction. Generally speaking, law societies will not address:
- dissatisfaction with the fees a lawyer has charged or if you feel a lawyer made a mistake that caused a financial loss. (information should be provided on where to pursue either complaint);
- dissatisfaction with the process of another organization or body other than the law society (for example, how the court conducts business); and
- dissatisfaction with the decision of a court;
Where do I find decisions by law societies?
Each provincial and territorial society publishes disciplinary decisions and outcomes on their websites, unless there is a statutory provision or an order to the contrary.
Do law societies speak for lawyers?
Canada’s legal system makes a clear distinction between the function of law societies and that of voluntary associations of members of the profession. It is the function of voluntary associations of members of the profession, such as the Canadian Bar Association, to speak for and represent the interests of their members. Law societies, on the other hand, are there to regulate the work of all legal professionals in Canada.
The law societies in Canada
- Law Society of British Columbia
- Law Society of Alberta
- Law Society of Manitoba
- Law Society of Saskatchewan
- Law Society of Ontario
- Barreau du Québec
- Chambre des notaires du Québec
- Law Society of New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia Barristers' Society
- Law Society of Prince Edward Island
- Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Law Society of Yukon
- Law Society of the Northwest Territories
- Law Society of Nunavut