What if I disagree with my lawyer?
If you call on a lawyer’s services, you expect them provide you with the best possible legal assistance. You expect them to tell you what your rights are and how you can enforce them. However, things may not turn out the way you had expected them to.
This page provides more information about the measures you can take and how the Bar deals with any complains about your lawyer.
You will find more information on the OVB website.
1. Talk with your lawyer
Are you unsatisfied with your lawyer’s services or the fees he is charging you? You should first let your lawyer know about your complaints, because some complaints arise out of a lack of communication. Your lawyer may be dismissive or not respond to your complaint at all: in that case, you can turn to the Bar to which your lawyer is registered and the President in particular, because they are the head of the Bar.
2. Write to the President
If you want to make your displeasure about your lawyer's services known to the President, you need to write to him or her. You indicate the reasons why you are dissatisfied and your desires. If possible, include supporting documentation or evidence.
The President then has four options, depending on the nature of your claim and the the concrete situation.
- The President can try to mediate between you and your lawyer.
- If you’re complaining about the fees your lawyer is charging, the President or your lawyer may propose to refer the dispute for advice, assessment, mediation or arbitration.
- If the dispute isn’t directly about the fees, but about quality problems, the President can look into the matter and try to resolve it themselves.
- The President may tell you that you need to take your lawyer to court as neither they themselves nor the Bar can deal with this complaint. This applies in particular if you believe you have suffered as a result of professional negligence on your lawyer's part.
3. Disciplinary proceedings
If a lawyer does not comply with the deontological rules of lawyers, the so-called Code of Ethics, disciplinary proceedings may be initiated.
- Professional confidentiality: your lawyer may not disclose any information you entrust to them and which is intended for them alone, unless it is necessary to defend your interests in legal proceedings, for example.
- Any money your lawyer receives on your behalf must be put in a separate special account (third party account), and must pass that money to you as soon as possible.
- Lawyers must do what they say. A lawyer who promises to initiate proceedings, but does not do so, is not acting as they should.
Disciplinary proceedings are held before a Disciplinary Board and a Disciplinary Board of Appeal. Disciplinary proceedings are about the deontological mistakes made by a lawyer. The law states that the President can only inform you once a final ruling has been given in the disciplinary proceedings.
The Dutch Brussels Bar has ethical rules on dealing with disputes over fees.
a. Non-binding advice
Both lawyers and clients can write to the President asking a member of the Bar Council to advise on fee statements. This advice is not binding on the parties and is not confidential.
b. Adversarial appraisal
The parties may demand an adversarial appraisal, either of their own accord or by being invited by the President to do so. The President will appoint an ex-member of the Bar Council as assessor, who will then invite the parties to make their remarks in writing or open session. The given advice is motivated, but is not binding or confidential: should any of the parties not follow it, the only option is then to refer the matter to the courts. As it is not confidential, it may of course be considered in the legal proceedings. The assessor will inform the President of their assessment.
The President may appoint a conciliator or approved lawyer-mediator in a fees dispute. There is also a "fee disputes conciliation chamber", made up of two former members of the Association Council and deputies, also ex-members of the Association Council. The conciliation chamber is authorised to act as conciliator in fee disputes. If a lawyer’s statement of fees and costs is disputed, the President will call the lawyer and their client to appear before the conciliation chamber together if they believe they can be reconciled.
There is more than one way of resolving a dispute: you can reach a settlement, for example, or you can take the matter to court, etc.
One way of resolving disputes is to refer them to arbitration. In case of arbitration, it is not a judge who solves the dispute and makes a decision, but an 'arbitrator'. There may be a single arbitrator, but there are normally three, known as the 'arbitration panel'.
When is arbitration used? It can be used if the parties to an original agreement (such as a sale) agree that, if any disputes arise, they will refer them, not to the courts, but to arbitration.
Disputes between lawyers and their clients over fees may also be referred to arbitration. Since 2002, if you have a dispute with your lawyer over fees, you can refer it to the Association’s arbitrators.
Arbitration can only be used if those involved agree expressly to refer a dispute to the Bar’s arbitrators, which you can do by signing a specific agreement on the subject. A model agreement you can use for this purpose is available from the Bar secretariat. Once your lawyer has signed the arbitration agreement, only the arbitrators can rule on the dispute.
Arbitration is not the same as conciliation or mediation. In conciliation or mediation proceedings, the mediator is there to help the parties find an amicable settlement, not give judgment; but arbitrators are appointed to give a decision to settle the dispute.
Arbitration judgements are binding on the parties who referred their dispute to arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are fast and flexible, and are not subject to any major formal requirements, unlike the ordinary courts.
Arbitration is strictly confidential. The hearings are not public and judgements are not published. Neither you nor you lawyer need fear the matter will become public.
Arbitration awards made by the Bar’s arbitrators are final and not open to appeal.
5. Advising on fees at the request of the Courts
It often occurs that courts hearing fee disputes turn to the Bar Council for advice. The President then appoints a rapporteur from amongst the present or past Council members who will hear the parties and then advise the Council. The advice will be given in the language in which the proceedings are conducted before the judicial authority in question and will be notified to the court and parties. Nevertheless, it is only advice, and it is not binding on either the parties or the court.