What is a lawyer?

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 reserves certain types of activities to lawyers. This includes appearing before the court (with some minor exceptions). Only those who hold a current practising certificate are entitled to call themselves lawyers and it is an offence for others to do so.

If you are unsure about the qualifications of someone who says they are a lawyer, check with the Registry at the Law Society. Alternatively, you can search the Register of Lawyers online.

Who do you complain to?

The New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) is the regulator for all lawyers (including barristers)  in New Zealand. It operates the Lawyers Complaints Service which handles all complaints about:

  • Lawyers or former lawyers;
  • Incorporated law firms or former incorporated law firms;
  • People who are not lawyers but who are or were an employee of a lawyer or an incorporated law firm.

Complaints about former lawyers/incorporated law firms can only be made if the conduct complained about occurred when the person concerned was a lawyer.

Details on how to complain should be addressed to the  NZLS Complaints Service. Refer to the NZLS website.

Please note that the New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture cannot receive complaints against barristers.

What are the duties of a lawyer?

Lawyers are required to comply with the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 which set out the obligations lawyers owe to clients. Lawyers must:

  • act competently, in a timely way, and in accordance with instructions received and arrangements made;
  • protect and promote your interests and act for you free from compromising influences or loyalties;
  • discuss with you your objectives and how they should best be achieved;
  • provide you with information about the work to be done, who will do it and the way the services will be provided;
  • charge you a fee that is fair and reasonable and let you know how and when you will be billed;
  • give you clear information and advice;
  • protect your privacy and ensure appropriate confidentiality;
  • treat you fairly, respectfully, and without discrimination;
  • keep you informed about the work being done and advise you when it is completed;
  • let you know how to make a complaint and deal with any complaint promptly and fairly.

However, it is important to note that the preface to the Act says that "[t]he rules are not an exhaustive statement of the conduct expected of lawyers. They set the minimum standards that lawyers must observe and are a reference point for discipline. A charge of misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct may be brought and a conviction may be obtained despite the charge not being based on a breach of any specific rule, nor on a breach of some other rule or regulation made under the Act."

What kind of complaints can you make?

You can complain about:

  • A lawyer’s conduct - such as treating you with discourtesy or behaving in an intimidatory manner.
  • Poor service – such as delays, failure to carry out your instructions, not responding in a timely manner and not keeping you up to date.
  • Fees – if you consider a lawyer’s invoice is too high (within certain limits).
  • Failure to comply with any order or final determination made under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (LCA) by a Lawyers Standards Committee or the Legal Complaints Review Officer.

What you cannot complain about

Lawyers are first and foremost officers of the Court. This is an overriding duty (see section 4 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 -  To protect, subject to overriding duties as officers of the High Court and to duties under any enactment, the interests of clients). A lawyer will not act in any way that conflicts this duty.

If that duty requires them to act in a particular set of circumstances in a way that the client is not happy with, the client is unlikely to get far with the complaint. For example, a lawyer will not assist a client to commit perjury.

Do I have to be a client to complain about a lawyer's conduct?

The short answer to this is no.  Section 132 (1) of the LCA says “any person” may complain to the complaints service. But you must still have grounds for complaint.   Moreover, the complaints process is taken very seriously and there are confidentiality requirements for all those involved.