Concerns About Your Lawyer
How the Law Society Can Help
How the Law Society Can Help
The Role of the Law Society
Kinds of Complaints
What To Do If You Have a Complaint About a Lawyer
How the Law Society Handles Complaints
Investigation of Complaints
Review of Contingency Fee Agreements
Review of Fees on Mortgage Foreclosure or Estate Administration
Reimbursement Claims Fund
Law Phone-In and Lawyer Referral Service
Legal Aid Manitoba
Like many professionals, lawyers are self-regulated. All lawyers who practise law in Manitoba must be members of the Law Society of Manitoba, the regulating body for lawyers. Some lawyers from other Canadian provinces may also practise in Manitoba on a limited basis. The Law Society acts in the public interest to make sure that Manitoba lawyers practise ethically and competently. We set standards of conduct for lawyers and discipline lawyers who do not meet these standards. This page explains how the Law Society deals with lawyers who do not meet the required standard.
The nature of your complaint will affect the way it is handled. In some cases the Law Society may not be able to help. For example, we do not provide legal advice or services. Complaints about lawyer negligence (saying that your lawyer has made a mistake) or about the fee your lawyer charged are dealt with differently than complaints about a lawyer’s conduct. See the information below on Fee Disputes and Negligence.
If you have a concern about something a lawyer has done (or not done), you should contact the Complaints Resolution Department of the Law Society.
Before sending us a formal complaint, consider phoning us and letting us know about your concerns. Depending on the issue, we may be able to help you work things out.
Should you wish to proceed with a formal complaint, you must do so in writing, with your signature. You can write us a letter outlining the details of your complaint, or fill out a Complaint Help Form. Call us at (204) 942-5571 to obtain a copy of the form. Be sure to include:
Send everything to:
Complaints Resolution Department Paralegal
The Law Society of Manitoba
219 Kennedy Street
A staff member will review your complaint to see if the Law Society can help you. If we decide not to investigate your complaint we will send you a letter telling you why we made that decision, and the lawyer will be sent a copy of your complaint. You may ask to have our decision reviewed by the Complaints Review Commissioner, an independent decision-maker who is not a lawyer. The Complaints Review Commissioner has two choices: dismiss the complaint (which ends the matter) or direct the Law Society to investigate.
To request a review by the Complaints Review Commissioner, write to:
Complaints Review Commissioner
P.O. Box 2234
We may suggest that your complaint be resolved informally. A staff member may contact you and your lawyer with the goal of resolving the complaint in a way which both you and your lawyer accept. If the complaint can be resolved informally, the Law Society will write you a letter setting out the results and that will end the matter. If the complaint cannot be resolved informally, or if more serious problems are discovered, the complaint will be further investigated.
We will send a copy of your complaint to the lawyer complained of, who must respond to us in writing within 14 days. In most cases we will send you a copy of the lawyer’s response.
The form of the investigation will depend on the nature of the complaint. You will not be required to testify at the investigation stage, but we may contact you for further information. All investigations are confidential, but we will inform you of the results. All complaints (no matter how they are resolved) form part of a lawyer’s complaints history.
We have the power during an investigation to look beyond the circumstances of the complaint under investigation to the lawyer’s other files and office systems. We may decide that the lawyer lacks adequate skill or knowledge to practise effectively. If so, we will try to help the lawyer by suggesting changes to the lawyer’s practice and providing support for the lawyer to change.
On the other hand, the investigation may suggest that the lawyer acted unethically. In this situation, the seriousness of the complaint will determine our response. We may decide that pointing out the problem and reminding the lawyer of his or her ethical obligations is sufficient. The Complaints Review Commissioner may also be asked to review a staff decision to conclude a complaint on that basis and decide if it should be considered by the Complaints Investigation Committee. For more information about the role of the Complaints Review Commissioner, please refer to the Law Society’s website. In more serious cases the Complaints Investigation Committee may lay charges of professional misconduct against the lawyer. If it is in the public interest to do so, we may suspend the lawyer’s licence to practice until the charges are dealt with at a hearing before the Discipline Committee.
The Discipline Committee holds hearings to consider charges of professional misconduct, conduct unbecoming a lawyer, and incompetence. A lawyer representing the Law Society prosecutes the charge. The lawyer who has been charged may be represented by a lawyer. You may be required as a witness at the discipline hearing, but you will not need your own lawyer. Discipline hearings are open to the public, so you may attend even if you are not a witness.
If the Discipline Committee finds the charges against a lawyer to be proven it can: reprimand; fine; impose conditions of practice on; suspend; or disbar the lawyer. The Discipline Committee does not have the authority to order the lawyer to pay any money to a complainant for losses or damages incurred. We will inform you in writing of the decision, and publish the decision to other lawyers. We publish a notice to the public whenever a lawyer is suspended or disbarred.
If you and your lawyer have not talked a lot about how much your case will cost, you may not know what to expect on your lawyer’s final statement of account. You should talk to your lawyer, who can tell you exactly what he or she did on your case and how long it took. If you feel that your lawyer’s fee is too high or incorrect, you can ask for it to be reviewed by either arbitration or assessment.
If you and your lawyer agree, the Law Society will arrange for a review of the statement of account by a neutral arbitrator or panel of three arbitrators. There is no charge for this review. Both you and the lawyer will be at the meeting. The review process is informal, and you do not need a lawyer. The arbitrator will either reduce the fee or uphold it. Contact the Law Society for further information on this process or to request arbitration.
Another option is to have the fee assessed by an officer of the Court of Queen’s Bench. You do not need your lawyer’s agreement to have the fee assessed. To arrange for an assessment call (204) 945-3043. You should act quickly if you want an assessment, as you must apply no later than 6 months after you receive the lawyer’s final statement of account.
If you made a contingency fee agreement with your lawyer (an agreement that the lawyer’s fee would be a percentage of the monies the lawyer recovered for you), you can ask the court to review the fairness of the contingency agreement. You must apply for such a review no later than 6 months from the date the money was paid to or kept by your lawyer. Call the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench at (204) 945-3043 for more information.
You cannot use arbitration or assessment to review the fees on a mortgage foreclosure or estate administration. Fees on these matters are controlled by set tariffs and different procedures are available for their review. Call the Law Society for more information on having the fees reviewed in these situations.
The Complaints Resolution Department of the Law Society does not usually investigate complaints of lawyer negligence, since negligence (an error or omission) is not usually considered to be a disciplinary matter. The Law Society does, however, require Manitoba lawyers in private practice to be covered by professional liability insurance. Our Professional Liability Claims Fund staff administers this insurance plan for lawyers.
If you can prove that a mistake made by your lawyer caused you to suffer quantifiable damages, you may make a claim against your lawyer. The Claims Fund staff will deal with the claim on your lawyer’s behalf. In most situations you will need to speak to a new lawyer about making your claim. Contact the Insurance Department of the Law Society for more information.
The Law Society maintains a fund to repay people whose trust monies have been misappropriated by their lawyer. All members of the legal profession contribute to this fund. Contact the Law Society for further information on how to make a claim under this fund.
The Law Society of Manitoba has established the Office of the Equity Ombudsperson to provide assistance to Manitoba lawyers, support staff, articling students and clients of lawyers in dealing with issues of discrimination and harassment. The Equity Ombudsperson provides confidential and neutral assistance when concerns about any kind of discrimination or harassment arise. The Equity Ombudsperson operates independently of the Law Society of Manitoba and reports only general statistical information. All conversations with the Equity Ombudsperson are strictly confidential. You may reach the Equity Ombudsperson or leave a confidential voice message at any time by calling (204) 942-2002 in Winnipeg or toll free from anywhere else in Manitoba by calling 1-866-771-2002.
The Law Phone-In Service, operated by the Community Legal Education Association, answers general questions about the law. Call them at (204) 943-3602 or toll-free at 1-800-262-8800 (outside Winnipeg). The Law Phone-In Service provides general advice only, not advice for particular situations. If you have a legal problem, it is best to talk to a lawyer.
You may qualify for assistance from Legal Aid Manitoba to pay for a lawyer. For more information, talk to your lawyer or call Legal Aid Manitoba directly at (204) 985-8500 (in Winnipeg) or toll-free at 1-800-261-2960 (outside Winnipeg).