The Complaint Resolution Project


  • Lois MacLean
  • John McNiven



The authors describe the new complaint resolution project at the Law Society of Alberta, which handles some of the client/lawyer and lawyer/lawyer complaints. Because the legal profession is self-governing, the Law Society must have a means of protecting the public and regulating the conduct of its members. Under the Legal Profession Act, a process is in place that deals with written complaints in a very formal manner. The shortfalls of this formal process are the high levels of stress for the participants, the time required and the expense involved. The authors recognize, however, that the less formal process discussed is only appropriate in some, and not all, cases. This less formal process was tested during the Trial Project. The complaints officers offered complainants the less formal route when it was felt to be appropriate. The dispute resolution process that has emerged is neither traditional arbitration nor mediation, but rather a hybrid process, in which the complaints officer inserts himself or herself between the parties, and attempts to assist in reaching a settlement. The authors discuss common causes and types of complaints and then present the results of the Trial Project. While it is perhaps too early for a definitive statistical assessment, it seems that the Trial Project has significantly reduced the number of formal complaints being dealt with by the Law Society. Additionally, the project seems to have been well received by the bar. At the same time, the authors want to remain open to criticism and discuss some concerns that have been voiced about the new process and the complaints officers. The authors then canvass informal complaints procedures that have been instituted by other law societies, Canadian and otherwise, and compare the experiences and results of those projects. In conclusion, the authors recount the overall favourable comments they have received as part of the Trial Project, and discuss the challenge for the Law Society in the f