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Your rights and responsibilities as the client of an attorney

Attorneys fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Legal Practice Council. Complaints must be lodged with the relevant office of the Legal Practice Council. 
Click here for information on lodging complaints

YOUR RIGHTS AS THE CLIENT OF AN ATTORNEY

As the client of an attorney, you have the right

  • to professional, honest and unbiased advice at all times;
  • to be treated with professional courtesy, respect and fairness, regardless of your race, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability;
  • to privacy and attorney-client confidentiality;
  • to agree the type of service you can expect and receive;
  • to clear explanations in terms you can understand;
  • to find out from the start of the consultation what you are hoping to achieve, and aim to make sure that your expectations are realistic;
  • to know who will be handling your matter;
  • to be advised on the likely success of your matter and not to do unnecessary work that will lead to unnecessary expenses;
  • to an explanation of the cost implications and how the costs are likely to be calculated;
  • to be kept informed of costs, so that you can work out if a particular course of action is worth following financially
  • to be kept updated on developments and on progress as work on your matter proceeds;
  • to responses to your letters and telephone calls within a reasonable time;
  • to a clear bill which shows the work done and the amounts charged;
  • to complain about your attorney if you believe the attorney is acting unethically or in an unprofessional manner;
  • have the attorneys’ account assessed and taxed if you are of the view that it is too high; and
  • subject to certain conditions, you have the right to cancel your mandate to the attorney at any stage and consult another attorney.

Please note: The legal duty to release information about money deposited with your attorney can override the duty of confidentiality (for example, in terms of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act) and the duty to court can override the duty to put your interests first.

YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS THE CLIENT OF AN ATTORNEY

As the client of an attorney you have the responsibility

  • to treat your attorney with respect and courtesy;
  • to give your attorney correct and complete information, and to disclose all the relevant facts to assist your attorney to give you the appropriate advice;
  • to give your attorney clear instructions;
  • to enquire about the cost implications and how the costs will be calculated;
  • to pay a deposit if requested to do so;
  • to respond timeously to all requests for information from your attorney;
  • not to direct unnecessary enquiries to your attorney as your attorney may charge consultation fees for these enquiries, and this may increase costs unnecessarily;
  • to settle bills from your attorney timeously; and
  • to use the legal system, including the courts, appropriately and not abuse it.

YOUR RIGHT TO COMPLAIN

Attorneys are bound by a strict professional code. Most people are satisfied with the service of their attorney, but things do sometimes go wrong. That is why there is a clear and effective complaints procedure in place.

Communicate with your attorney. Experience has shown that many complaints arise from a lack of communication between the attorney and the client. Before lodging a complaint with the Law Society, it is suggested that you make an appointment with your attorney and that you raise your problems with him/her and ask him/her to inform you in regard to your enquiries. Remember, however, that an attorney is entitled to be remunerated for consultations.

Alternatively you may send the attorney a letter, preferably by registered post, asking him/her for a full report if he/she has not reported to you to your satisfaction. An attorney is obliged to report to a client on progress in a matter.

It is only fair to allow the attorney a reasonable opportunity to report to you before filing a complaint.

Complaints

In terms of the Legal Practice Act, 2014, the Legal Practice Council will investigate all complaints of attorneys and advocates acting in an unprofessional manner.

What you can complain about

  • Persistent delays in answering letters.
  • Failure to account for money held on the client’s behalf.
  • Improper, unprofessional or unethical conduct.
  • Failing to give proper attention to a matter.

Where to complain

The Legal Practice Council conducts investigations to decide whether disciplinary action is required. The LPC cannot say how long an investigation will last, but all matters are dealt with as quickly as possible. Based on the facts presented, by both the client and the attorney, the law society will decide whether to refer the matter to a disciplinary committee.

Complaints about attorneys can be lodged with the relevant provincial office of the Legal Practice Council:

For attorneys in Gauteng, North-West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo
E-mail: directorgp@lpc.org.za Tel: (012) 338 5800

For attorneys in the Free State:
E-mail: director@fs-law.co.za Tel: (051) 447 3237

For attorneys in KwaZulu-Natal:
E-mail: info@lawsoc.co.za Tel: (033) 345 1304

For attorneys in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape:
E-mail: cls@capelawsoc.law.za Tel: (021) 443 6700.

THE ROLE OF THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS' FIDELITY FUND (LPPF)

In terms of the Legal Practice Act the primary purpose of the Fund is to reimburse members of the public who may suffer monetary loss as a result of the theft of money or property entrusted to an attorney

  • in the course of his/her practice as such, or
  • where an attorney acts as executor or administrator in a deceased estate, or
  • as a trustee in an insolvent estate, or in any similar capacity; or
  • pending registration of the transfer of immovable property, or settlements in personal injury claims.

The Fund does not reimburse loss suffered as a result of negligence by an attorney in the conduct of his/her practice. Business transactions are also not covered, or money handed to an attorney for investment purposes, nor loans to the attorney. Certain relationships such as family, business or partnership associations will preclude a person from claiming against the Fund.

Read more on claiming from the LPFF here.