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Dealing with lawyers

04 Aug 2016 - 17:05 | Version 13 |

Contributed by KellyGrainger and current to 1 May 2016

The word lawyer is a general term applied to solicitors and barristers and anyone else admitted by the Supreme Court. A person with a law degree is not automatically allowed to practise law. They have to first be admitted to practise by the NT Supreme Court, placed on the Roll of Lawyers and issued a practising certificate by the Law Society Northern Territory (the Law Society).

The NT has what is known as a fused profession. This means that legal practitioners are admitted to practice as both barristers and solicitors. A lawyer can, therefore, practise as a barrister and solicitor or, after having the roll noted, practise only as a barrister (counsel).

Lawyers who have been admitted to practise in another Australian State or Territory or overseas may be admitted to practise in the NT.

Intending clients can check the records of the Law Society to see whether a practitioner holds a current practising certificate. A list of current legal practitioners is available on the Law Society's website or you can telephone or email the Law Society (see Contact points ).

The difference between barristers and solicitors

The difference between solicitors and barristers puzzles many people. Solicitors are the legal practitioners people deal with most. They generally work in offices, undertaking a range of legal work, such as preparing wills, contracts or deeds or doing conveyancing work (acting for people buying and selling land and business leases) or probate work (acting for executors or administrators applying for the right to administer the affairs of people who have died). Solicitors can, and many do, appear in court on preliminary matters or at a trial, but if a case is complex, they may advise a client that a barrister should be briefed (given instructions to act in the case).

Barristers are courtroom specialists and often have a high level of expertise in particular areas of law. Usually, barristers are approached, instructed and retained by the client's solicitor, although their fees are paid by the client. A solicitor can hire or fire a barrister on a client's instructions.

When is a solicitor needed?

Seeking legal advice can be time consuming and costly and in many cases other avenues are available to solve the problem. For instance, a problem with a noisy neighbour can often be resolved by directly approaching the people involved (see Neighbours).

Neighbourhood dispute settlement centres and mediation centres have been set up in some states to provide free advice and assistance to help people settle disputes. Negotiation and mediation are just some of the services provided by these centres (see Alternative dispute resolution ).

The decision about whether to contact a solicitor depends on:
  • the type of problem involved
  • the possible consequences being faced, for example, if there is a risk of imprisonment
  • the sort of action a client wants to take
  • how much money is available
  • the availability of legal aid.
For example, a solicitor is generally not needed for neighbourhood disputes or to collect minor debts. Many small civil disputes can be dealt with by the person in the Small Claims jurisdiction, which is designed to allow people to conduct their own matter without the need for a solicitor. The NTLAC can assist with free advice about how to conduct a Small Claims matter or whether the case is serious enough to warrant going to a solicitor. Legal advice should definitely be sought by a person charged with a serious criminal offence, like robbery, serious assault or serious fraud, or a major personal injury or civil action.

Initial advice

The following inexpensive avenues are open to people who want to determine whether their problem has a legal solution:
  • Darwin Community Legal Service holds regular free advice sessions run by volunteer solicitors who can either directly assist clients or refer them to a centre or a solicitor who can. Anyone can use the free advice service (see Legal aid ).
  • Other community legal centres such as Top End Women's Legal Service, Katherine Women's Legal Service, Central Australian Women's Legal Service and the Environmental Defender's Office (NT) provide free legal advice to eligible members of the community.
  • Some private solicitors offer free legal advice at the first meeting, while others participate in the Law Society First Interview Scheme and charge $99 (including GST) for the first half hour of an initial consultation and conditions apply. A person should ask about fees before making an appointment.
  • NTLAC offers free or low cost legal advice, and ongoing assistance to those who meet the means and merits test (see Legal Aid ).
  • People of Aboriginal descent can contact the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, Northern Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Service or Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit for free or low cost legal advice and assistance.
A person who finds themselves in a Magistrates Court without legal representation can obtain assistance from the duty solicitor on site. They should be at court well before their hearing so the duty solicitor has time to discuss their case. In a complicated matter the duty solicitor will ask the court to adjourn (put off) the case until further legal advice can be sought. A person without representation can themselves ask for an adjournment to seek legal advice. A private solicitor, NTLAC or the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service should then be contacted as soon as possible.

Choosing a solicitor

Although solicitors can advertise, a person can still find it difficult to find a solicitor to meet their needs. Some solicitors practise extensively or even exclusively in one area, so not every solicitor will have expertise in every area of law. Some solicitors will undertake accredited specialist training in an area of law and can promote themselves as an "accredited specialist". However, when a person contacts a law firm, it will usually make arrangements for them to see the solicitor who deals with the relevant area of law. Also, a person can always ask a solicitor about their area of expertise before engaging them. Alternatively, they can contact the Law Society by telephone or email for a list of firms that practise in a particular area of law.

A consumer should remember that private solicitors are running a business, so they should take the time to compare costs and business styles. A consumer should shop around to find the solicitor providing the best service at a price they can afford.

Personal recommendation is often the best way of locating a suitable solicitor. Solicitors can also be located in the Yellow Pages where they are listed alphabetically under 'Solicitor'.

Solicitor-client relationships

It is important for there to be good communication between a solicitor and their client. The relationship should also be respectful on both sides. Solicitors are employed by clients. A client is, therefore, entitled to ask questions about their case and expect to be answered promptly. However, it should be remembered that most solicitors charge for the time they spend on a client's matter, so the more time a person spends talking to their solicitor, the larger their bill will be. A client should also be kept informed of any significant developments regarding their matter, including an increase in costs.

A solicitor is not obliged to take on any case and can refuse a case without having to give a reason. A solicitor's advice should be independent. A solicitor must refuse to act for a client if they have already advised someone connected with the other side of the dispute. A solicitor cannot act for a person if there could be a conflict of interest between that person's case and the case of some other person for whom the solicitor is already acting or has acted. A solicitor may be approached by the other party about a different matter. The solicitor does not have to agree to act for the other party. However, a solicitor can only take on the other party if they have not received confidential information from the first; if they did it would result in a conflict of interest.

A client's agreement to employ a solicitor and that solicitor's agreement to act on the client's behalf constitutes a contract known as a retainer. A contract should ideally be made in writing but can be made verbally. A contract should outline the method of charging to be adopted (see Contracts and consumer protection ). Often the terms of a retainer are included in the costs agreement between the client and the solicitor.

Once engaged, a solicitor is obliged to act on their client's instructions, providing those instructions are legal and ethical. A solicitor should not act without their client's instructions. A solicitor must provide their client with the legal options available to them so that the client can give informed instructions.

While initially it may seem expensive it is always best to confirm your instructions to the solicitor in writing and also to have their advice to you in writing. Solicitors and barristers deal with complex issues and it is often best to have time to consider any advice given to you. After all, the barrister or solicitor can only advise you of the options available, and make recommendations as to the one best suited to you; they cannot make decisions for you.

Generally a client can end a retainer without giving a reason, they simply need to tell the solicitor. In certain circumstances a solicitor can end the retainer with reasonable notice. The circumstances will determine what is 'reasonable notice'.

As a general rule, documents relating to a case, other than a solicitor's own file notes and financial records for the case, are the client's property and must be supplied at their request, subject to whether any money is owed for legal fees. A solicitor may need to keep a complete record of case files for several years and may, therefore, require time to photocopy documents from the file before delivering the original file as directed by the client.

When the retainer is terminated, a solicitor can retain all the client's papers and documents relating to the case, and any money held on the client's behalf until the account has been paid in full. This right to retain possession of something of value until payment is made or obligations under an agreement fulfilled is known as a solicitor's lien. If a client's file is required for court proceedings, the solicitor may be required to hand it over regardless of the lien if certain conditions are met or a Court order requires it.

Court costs

When a client takes a matter to court the Court can decide if one party should pay costs to the other party. If a client wins a case, the court generally orders the losing party to pay the client's legal costs. The client or their legal representatives may argue that costs should not be awarded or may seek an appeal. In some areas of law, the Court will not make a costs order unless there are exceptional circumstances, for example in family law and criminal law.

In awarding costs the court can:
  • specify an amount to be paid
  • suggest that the client and the other party negotiate an agreement regarding costs or apply to have the amount of the costs determined through the process of taxation (see Disputing solicitors' fees ).
If costs are awarded, a client will receive a bill from the other party's legal representatives which can be treated in the same manner as a bill from their own legal representatives. The amount of the costs can be challenged through a process called taxation (see Taxation of costs).

Fees

Solicitors' fees

The way that solicitors' fees are calculated varies. The basis for the charging of fees should be discussed by a person and their solicitor before any work begins.

Under the Legal Profession Act 2006 (LPA) a solicitor must disclose to the client the basis on which costs will be calculated, provide an estimate (not a quote) of what the case is likely to cost and other ancillary matters, such as how often the client will be billed and what options are available if the client wants to dispute the bill. This information must be given in writing for any matter where costs are likely to exceed $1,500. If the solicitor does not provide proper disclosure about costs then the client does not have to pay until the bill has been assessed.

Costs agreements

A costs agreement is a written and signed agreement between a client and a solicitor that sets out the agreed amount of the legal fees, or how the legal fees will be calculated, for the proposed work. Costs agreements must be in line with Part 3.3, Division 5 of the LPA. The costs agreements should specify how and what the client is to be charged for legal services. It may also include other terms and conditions of the retainer, such as when the solicitor is permitted to cease acting and how long the client's file will be kept before being destroyed. A solicitor is not entitled to charge more than the agreed rate or lump sum amount for work performed.

A costs agreement is binding on both parties, so a client should seek independent advice or shop around before signing.

Conditional Costs Agreements may provide that the payment of solicitor's fees is conditional upon the success of the case. This is often expressed as 'no win/no fee'. These types of agreements generally do not include disbursements or outgoings (charges the solicitor has to pay on behalf of the client) and do not apply in certain prescribed proceedings eg criminal matters and family law proceedings. The most common cases where the 'no win/no fee' system applies is in personal injury cases eg work health, medical negligence or public liability matters. It is common in these arrangements that the legal fees are higher than normal, because the solicitor takes the risk of not getting paid.

If the case is lost, clients should note that they are still responsible for any court orders which require them to pay the other party's legal costs.

A solicitor cannot ask the client to agree to an arrangement where the solicitor gets paid a percentage of any settlement or award monies. This is called a contingency fee and is currently illegal.

A conditional costs agreement may include special terms. For example it may include a condition that if the client refuses to accept a settlement offer that the solicitor considers is realistic and reasonable then the solicitor can terminate the agreement and charge fees for all work done.

Ad valorem work

Some work is charged ad valorem, that is, on the basis of the value of the matter. For example, in conveyancing work a solicitor's fee may be based on the value of the property. If a client didn't agree in advance to pay such a fee and challenges it, the solicitor has to be able to justify the fee is fair and reasonable. A justification could be based on an hourly rate agreed to by the client, the usual rate charged by other solicitors experienced in that area of law or the scale set by a Court.

Fees for representation in courts and tribunals

Legal representation in courts and tribunals is an important service provided by barristers and solicitors. This kind of work is often referred to as contentious matters and it attracts particular fees.

Many courts and tribunals, including the Supreme Court, Local Court and Family Court, set the fees that lawyers may charge when they appear before them. Fees are set out in the published scales, usually found in the rules of a court. For example, the Supreme Court Rules ( SCR) give an hourly rate that can be charged by solicitors, and the Local Court Rules (LCR) contain a scale of practitioners' costs.

Solicitors don't have to charge according to fee scales. Fee scales are generally only used when determining the amount to be paid by the other party under a costs order or to help to determine whether a cost is reasonable (see Disputing solicitors' fees ). The rate a barrister or solicitor can charge depends on their seniority or level of experience, and is affected by market forces and the type of work involved.

Barristers' fees as disbursements

Barristers' fees can be a significant cost in any court case. Barristers may charge a fixed fee for their services, but generally charge different hourly, daily or half-day rates, depending on the type of work (see Barristers' fees ). The barrister charges the solicitor for their services and the solicitor passes the cost on to the client as a disbursement. The solicitor is responsible for paying the barrister's fee, so they usually want their client to pay some money in advance. Any money paid in advance is put into the solicitor's trust account and a trust account receipt must be issued to the client if the client requests one. A client who wants a particular barrister to handle their case or to place a limit on the fees payable to a barrister must inform their solicitor. Otherwise, the solicitor will choose the barrister and often that choice is based on who is available at the time and their experience.

The solicitor's bill

A solicitor's bill may be presented in the form of a lump sum bill, which shows only the final cost of the legal work, or an itemised bill detailing costs item by item. A bill may also contain disbursements. A client who is sent a lump sum bill can ask for the bill to be itemised and the solicitor must provide an itemised bill within 21 days of the request. An itemised bill is also sometimes called an account in a taxable form, a term that has nothing to do with income tax but relates instead to the way disputes are resolved (see Taxation of costs ).

A solicitor is entitled to charge for all reasonably incurred costs, including time taken to receive telephone calls from a client or to read documents or letters received on a client's behalf. To help determine whether charges are reasonable, a client should keep their own record of visits and telephone calls.

Should costs be contested, a decision about whether costs were reasonably incurred by a solicitor may depend on whether a client gave an express or implied authority for the work to be done and for the amount that was charged. Costs are unreasonably incurred if they are of an unusual nature, and if the solicitor failed to warn the client that they might be incurred. What is considered unusual will depend on the circumstances of each particular case.

If a client doesn't pay their bill within 30 days of delivery, their solicitor can sue to recover costs. If, however, the client requests an itemised bill, the solicitor can't start legal proceedings to recover costs for 30 days after the itemised bill has been delivered.

A solicitor may charge interest on overdue accounts, providing the bill states that such interest may be charged.

All bills must contain a Notice of Clients Rights advising of the options for disputing the bill.

Disputing solicitors' fees

The first step toward resolving any dispute over fees should be to approach the solicitor concerned. Some solicitors will offer to discount their fees to avoid a lengthy dispute. Where the bill is less than $10,000 a person can apply to the Statutory Supervisor to have the costs mediated [LPA s330].

If a compromise cannot be reached or the client believes their solicitor has overcharged the client can apply to a costs assessor to determine what is fair and reasonable. There may be costs associated with obtaining a costs assessment. An application for a costs assessment must be made in writing and an application fee must be paid. The application must be made within 12 months of the bill being given (or the final bill if interim bills were issued) or 12 months of the costs being paid if no bill was given. A client can apply for a costs assessment even if the costs have already been paid. Once an assessment has been requested the solicitor cannot take legal action to recover the costs, until such time as the assessment has been completed

If the bill is reduced by 15% the solicitor must pay the costs associated with the costs assessments. Otherwise the costs assessor decides who pays the costs associated with the costs assessment - the costs assessor can decide it is the solicitor, or the client or that the costs are shared between the solicitor and the client. .

The application form for a costs assessment can be obtained from the Law Society's website.

If either party is dissatisfied with a decision of the costs assessor they may apply to the Supreme Court for a review, and in limited circumstances can lodge an appeal. There will be costs associated with a review or with an appeal.

Making a claim under the Small Claims Act

An alternative for disputing a solicitor's bill is to make an application under the Small Claims Act 1974 (SCA). The same avenue can be used to claim for unsatisfactory or negligent services where they amount to breach of contract (see Contracts and consumer protection ). The SCA enables the Local Court to inquire into claims for the performance of work not exceeding $10,000 in value or relief from payment of money of an amount not exceeding $10,000 [SCA s.5].

Claims are processed with as little formality as possible. For example, the rules of evidence do not apply. The court can appoint an investigator to enquire into and report on a question of fact. It has the power to order a party to perform work to rectify a defect in services or, in the case of a claim for relief from payment of money, to rule that some or all of the sum is not due or owed. Orders of the court are final and conclusive and once an order is made a party to the claim can't have the matter reheard.

There are other benefits to taking this kind of action, such as:
  • the Local Court is obliged to help a claimant commence proceedings, serve any notices required and understand the proceedings
  • the Local Court can't award legal costs, which means that even an unsuccessful complainant won't have to pay the costs the other party incurred in defending the claim [SCA s.29]
  • the opportunity to resolve the issue in pre-hearing conferences, which are conducted by a registrar or magistrate [SCA s.9].
An application should be made within one month of receiving the account to prevent the solicitor from commencing legal proceedings to recover costs.

Barristers' fees

Barristers are engaged by the solicitor on the instructions of the client so they bill their fees to the solicitor. A client should ask their solicitor about a barrister's fees before instructing a solicitor to engage a barrister.

Although a scale of barristers' fees is attached to the Supreme Court Rules, barristers are not obliged to adhere to them and some charge above the scale. However, this scale of fees is referred to in the process of taxation when a dispute over fees arises (see Taxation of costs ).

Historically barristers were not entitled to sue for fees. Due to legislative changes there is now no legal reason to stop barristers suing for fees in the NT, but by tradition they don't. In any event, a solicitor is ethically obliged to pay a barrister irrespective of whether their client has paid them or not. For this reason, a solicitor will often request a client to pay the barrister's fees in advance.

While it is not possible to tax a barrister's bill, the same result may be achieved indirectly by taxing the solicitor's bill because it should include the barrister's fee as a disbursement. If the case was not one in which it was reasonable to brief a barrister or where the barrister's charge was unreasonably high, the client will not have to pay the excessive fee, except where the solicitor has obtained prior approval from the client for that particular expense.

If a client believes a barrister has charged them unreasonably, a complaint can be made in writing to the President of the Bar Association (see Complaints below).

Taxation of costs

If the Court orders one party to pay the other party's costs in court proceedings the Court may make the order for a specific amount or it may make an order that the amount of the costs is 'as agreed or to be taxed'. If the parties cannot agree on the amount to be paid under the costs order the party with the order for costs can apply to the Court for the costs to be taxed. The solicitor for that party will prepare a bill in taxable form and file it with the Court. The taxing officer, usually the Master of the Court, will conduct a hearing and go through each item on the bill to decide if it should be allowed, disallowed or allowed at a reduced amount. At the end of the taxation hearing the taxing officer will add up the allowed amounts and the total is the amount the other party has to pay under the costs order.

Problems with lawyers

Unprofessional conduct

Unprofessional conduct is conduct of a solicitor or barrister that is in breach of their ethical duties or falls below the standard of a competent and diligent solicitor or barrister. Under the LPA there are two types of unprofessional conduct - professional misconduct and unsatisfactory professional conduct.

It is often difficult to determine whether a solicitor has committed a negligent act or an act of unprofessional conduct. Although unprofessional conduct and negligence are generally different, a solicitor or barrister's negligence may be so serious as to amount to unprofessional conduct. There may also be cases when a solicitor's delay, failure to communicate, failure to follow instructions or other neglect of duty, while not enough to give the client the right to recover damages, amounts to unprofessional conduct. It is often difficult for a client to make such a distinction so independent legal advice should be sought.

Complaints about the unprofessional conduct of solicitors and barristers are handled by the Law Society. Listed below are some of the more common complaints about solicitors.

Delay

Legal problems sometimes take a long time to resolve. Delays are not always a solicitor's fault. They may be caused by other parties, by hold-ups in gaining access to documents or by backlogs in court cases. At other times the necessary interlocutory (intermediate or preparatory) steps may take longer than a client feels is reasonable. A client should discuss the reason for delays with their solicitor.

A client who believes a matter is unreasonably delayed can make a complaint (see Complaints below). Where delay causes serious damage or loss to a client, the solicitor may be sued for negligence. A common example of this is where time limits for bringing court actions or for providing defences were not met and the client has, as a consequence, lost legal rights they would otherwise have had.

Poor quality work

A client often has difficulty judging the quality of their solicitor's work. Even when a client loses an apparently simple case, that fact in itself is not sufficient indication of fault on the part of their solicitor or barrister. The client must have some evidence of negligence before taking legal action against a solicitor. In some cases, a client's source of dissatisfaction may easily be addressed through discussion with the solicitor involved or seeking a second opinion.

Negligence

What will be regarded as negligent work varies from case to case. No firm guidelines can be given here. A client who wishes to sue their solicitor must not only show negligence, but also that they have suffered financially from it.

A solicitor might be negligent, for example, because they have allowed there to be excessive delays which have resulted in a client losing legal rights or mishandled a client's affairs by not taking the kind of precautions commonly taken by solicitors. An example would be in a conveyancing matter, where a solicitor neglects to make the necessary inquiries regarding a property their client wants to buy, so that after the purchase is made, the client discovers that the land can't be used in they way they intended to use it. The solicitor may have been negligent because they failed to make the necessary inquiries. A client's entitlement to damages would depend on whether they suffered a loss as a result. In a case like this, they might have paid a premium for the land, thinking it had development potential. If they did, they may be able to recover the difference between what they paid and what the land is worth, as well as all the costs associated with acquiring and disposing of the land. In other words, the client should be awarded damages sufficient to return them to the position they were in before the poor advice was given.

Barristers and solicitors acting as counsel in the courtroom can't be sued for negligence in the actual conduct of a case in court, though they can be sued for negligence in other areas, such as for giving negligent advice.

All barristers and solicitors must take out compulsory professional indemnity insurance to cover themselves against claims for negligence.

Failure to inform

A solicitor has a duty to keep their client informed of progress on their case and to report at reasonably regular intervals or when a significant development occurs. Though clients should not be afraid to ask their solicitor questions, solicitors can charge for all telephone calls and correspondence with a client. One practical approach a client can take to ensure maximum information for minimum cost is to list in a letter to their solicitor specific questions to which answers are required. The frequency and method of reporting to the client should be agreed at the beginning of the retainer according to what the client expects and is prepared to pay for.

Handling money

Due to the nature of certain legal work, solicitors often hold money on trust for their clients. For example, a solicitor might hold the money a client has paid to purchase a house or a client may leave trust account funds with a solicitor to pay disbursements. Sometimes solicitors insist that money be paid in advance before they will act in particular matters. In all cases trust funds are kept in a trust account, which is a separate account maintained by a solicitor and subject to extensive control and regulation under the LPA.

A client who has difficulty obtaining money held by their solicitor on trust or who has difficulty obtaining a trust account statement about their money in the solicitor's trust account should immediately contact the Law Society. A client who loses money entrusted to a solicitor who has dealt with it improperly can claim for their lost money from the Fidelity Fund which is a fund administered by the Funds Management Committee. A client wishing to make a claim should set out their case in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Funds Management Committee and send it care of the Law Society (see Contact points ).

Complaints

Every member of the community is entitled to have their solicitor or barrister act responsibly and ethically in their interests.

In general, a complaint about a solicitor should first be made to the solicitor concerned and, if still dissatisfied, to one of the partners in the law firm concerned. If the solicitor is acting for or employed by NTLAC, the complaint should be lodged with the Director (see Contact points ).

If still dissatisfied, the complainant can, at no cost, pursue the matter through the complaint process listed below.

The Law Society

The Law Society is the professional association of barristers and solicitors. The Society has certain statutory powers and disciplinary functions in relation to barristers and solicitors in the NT. All barristers and solicitors are subject to these powers and functions, irrespective of whether they are members of the Society or not.

Anyone who has a complaint concerning the professional conduct of a barrister or solicitor can make it in writing to the Law Society, which is then bound to investigate the matter, unless the complaint stems from behaviour which occurred more than three years previously or is not conduct the Law Society is authorised to deal with.

Some examples of the type of complaints the Law Society assist with or investigate include:
  • persistent delay in answering a client's letters or telephone calls,

  • not accounting for money held or disbursed on a client's behalf,

  • not keeping certain information confidential,

  • acting in a matter against a former client where the former client provided relevant confidential information,
  • charging grossly excessive costs,
  • unreasonably delaying completing work on a client's behalf,
  • failing to properly inform the client of the progress of the case.

The Law Society is given wide powers of investigation by the LPA and, in particular, can inspect and take copies of any accounts and documents in the custody of a solicitor. It is an offence to wilfully delay or obstruct a Law Society investigation or for a solicitor to refuse to surrender documents without reasonable excuse.

The Law Society can:
  • dismiss the complaint if it finds it not proved
  • attempt to resolve the matter by conciliation where appropriate
  • publicly reprimand the solicitor
  • fine the solicitor (which goes into the Fidelity Fund)
  • suspend the solicitor's practising certificate
  • order the solicitor to pay compensation
  • start proceedings in the Disciplinary Tribunal.

Making a complaint to the Law Society does not involve any cost to the complainant but make take some time, depending on the complexity of the matter.

The Law Society has no power to deal with the negligence of solicitors, although this is a commonly made complaint. If a solicitor has been negligent and a client feels they have suffered a loss as a result and wishes to be compensated, they have to take the matter to court and should seek independent legal advice.

The Disciplinary Tribunal

If not satisfied with the decision of the Law Society then the complainant or the barrister or solicitor can appeal to the Disciplinary Tribunal. For very serious matters the Law Society itself will refer the complaint to the Disciplinary Tribunal.

The Disciplinary Tribunal is a body of lawyers and non-lawyers set up under the LPA to maintain the highest standards of professional behaviour within the legal profession and to make findings about complaints of professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct against barristers and solicitors. The members of the tribunal are appointed by the Attorney-General and consist of former magistrates or judges, lawyers and lay persons.

The Disciplinary Tribunal has all the powers of the Law Society and more, including the power to order one of the parties to pay the costs of the proceedings before it.

The Supreme Court

If a party is dissatisfied with a decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal they may appeal to the Supreme Court which can make any order it considers appropriate, including an order removing a solicitor's right to practise.

Whether salaried staff of NTLAC or private solicitors paid by it to act in a particular case (see Legal Aid ) NT Legal Aid solicitors are covered by the same professional conduct rules and complaints mechanisms as those that apply to other members of the legal profession.

In addition to the complaints mechanisms discussed, NTLAC staff are subject to internal disciplinary procedures. A complaint can be made to the Director of NTLAC about the conduct of its salaried staff. The Director has the power to discipline and counsel salaried staff. The Director may also be able to help an individual with a complaint about a private solicitor being paid by NTLAC to act in their case.

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