Estates & Wills & Trusts

Client complaints inevitable in emotional practice areas

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Law society complaints are an occupational hazard for lawyers in emotional practice areas, Toronto trust and estate litigator Felice Kirsh tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Kirsh, a partner with Schnurr Kirsh Oelbaum Tator LLP, says litigants in estate cases bring a long history with the deceased and other family members to disputes and don’t always react well when a lawyer or judge’s view of the case fails to match up with their expectations.

“These are emotional cases, and people are upset, angry and frustrated. Sometimes they will take that out on their lawyer, which can result in a complaint,” she says. “There are two sides to every case — sometimes more — and it can be difficult for a client to find that their perception of the events of the last 10 or 20 years is not the same way a judge will look at it.”

A recent CBC story reported on a lawyer administering an estate for a father who died of cancer in 2013.

When the deceased’s surviving daughter became dissatisfied with the lawyer’s handling of the case, she complained to the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) about his conduct.

"It sort of seemed like things weren't maybe handled in the best way. There were just a lot of issues … unnecessary delays and suggesting altering beneficiary designations," the daughter told the news outlet. "We just were unsure if things were being handled properly so we thought it might be a good idea to have that assessed and get an unbiased opinion of whether our lawyer was behaving appropriately or not."

The LSO concluded there was no wrongdoing on the part of the lawyer, but the story says the family was shocked to receive a $2,300 bill to the estate for the 10 hours he spent responding to law society investigators.

The lawyer later reduced the bill, but defended his actions, telling the CBC he was entitled to compensation for his time responding to an “unfounded, devoid of merit, and spurious" complaint that he added was a “necessary part of my handling of the file.”

Kirsh says responding to a complaint can be a time-consuming and frustrating process for lawyers, particularly when counsel believes the allegations are without merit.

“Clients aren’t always specific about what their complaints are, so it can take much time and effort to respond in a thorough manner,” she says. “No lawyer wants a complaint filed against them, but it doesn't make sense to charge the client for the time needed to respond to it, even if there is no specific rule against it.”

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