Clients can make a complaint against their attorney if they are not satisfied with their conduct. Here's how to respond if you receive a complaint against you.
Grounds for a complaint
Complaints can be made to the Board when a registered attorney commits an offence under the regulations, including when they:
- Have engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct
- Have engaged in professional misconduct
- Didn't have the required qualifications or knowledge when they registered
- Obtained their registration by fraud.
Unsatisfactory professional conduct is:
- Conduct that falls short of the standard of competence, diligence and behaviour that a member of the public can expect from an attorney.
- Not paying fees on time when the client has provided the funds
- Behaving aggressively towards clients or colleagues
- Failure, without reasonable excuse, to provide information requested by the Board in a professional conduct investigation
- Failure, without a reasonable excuse, to notify the designated manager in writing within 14 days of being charged with a 'serious offence' (a 'serious offence' is an indictable offence that involves obtaining property or a financial advantage by deception or fraudulent conduct).
Professional misconduct includes:
- A substantial or consistent failure to reach reasonable standards of competence and diligence
- Any other conduct, whether occurring in connection with practice as an attorney or not, that shows that the attorney is not of good fame, integrity and character.
Professional misconduct is a more serious offence than unsatisfactory professional conduct and higher penalties apply.
Disciplinary proceedings can also be brought when:
- At the time of registration, the attorney did not hold the required academic qualifications and knowledge requirements
- The attorney obtained registration by fraud.
What should I do if I receive a complaint?
The Board encourages clients and attorneys to resolve issues between themselves wherever possible. If you are able to address your client's concerns directly, the Board may not need to investigate and you may be able to resolve the matter sooner.
If you are a member of a professional organisation such as the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA) or New Zealand Intellectual Property Attorneys Inc (NZIPA) you may also be able to contact them for advice or support to address a client complaint.
How are complaints investigated?
The Board is responsible for investigating complaints against attorneys. It also decides whether to start proceedings against the attorney before the disciplinary tribunal.
Disciplinary process for incorporated attorneys
The Board can take action against an incorporated patent attorney when its employees or officers have engaged in professional misconduct.
It can ask the disciplinary tribunal to cancel or suspend an incorporated attorney's registration if:
- An attorney has been found guilty of professional misconduct, and
- The attorney's professional misconduct occurred while they were an employee or officer of the incorporated attorney, and
- The attorney's registration was cancelled or suspended.
When deciding whether to apply to cancel or suspend an incorporated attorney's registration, the Board will consider the following:
- The misconduct by the registered attorney
- The behaviour of the incorporated attorney's officers and employees, including whether they complied with the Code of Conduct
- Information provided by the incorporated attorney relating to the professional misconduct.