Characteristics of lawyers who are subject to complaints and misconduct findings: Evidence from a legal regulator in Victoria, Australia

Legal Services Forum Event

Level 1, Room 108
Melbourne Law School
185 Pelham Street

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This public seminar will be presented by Associate Professor Marie Bismark and Tara Sklar - University of Melbourne

Legal regulatory agencies are charged with ensuring lawyers are fit to practice law. However, much of their work is case-based and reactive; relatively little is understood about broader patterns of complaint. We identify the characteristics of lawyers who are subject to complaints and disciplinary action using a statewide dataset of 26,166 registered lawyers and 18,600 complaints lodged against 5,401 lawyers in Victoria, Australia, from 2005 to 2015. This is one of the first empirical legal studies to use regulatory data to analyse risk-factors for complaint within the legal profession. We find that the probability of complaint is significantly higher for lawyers who are male, middle-aged, have trust authority, or who work in law practices that are smaller, in non-urban locations or set up as incorporated legal practices. Understanding and addressing the reasons for higher rates of complaints among these groups of lawyers may benefit both the profession and the public who they serve.

Associate Professor Marie Bismark is a physician and lawyer, who leads the Law and Public Health Group at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on learning from patient voice to improve the quality and safety of healthcare. In addition to her research role, Marie works as a doctor with Orygen Youth Health two days a week. She also serves as a non-executive director on the boards of a number of health sector companies, including Summerset aged care and GMHBA health insurance. Marie has previously worked in a number of New Zealand hospitals, served as a legal adviser to the Health and Disability Commissioner, been a solicitor with a leading New Zealand law firm, and completed a Harkness Fellowship in Healthcare Policy at Harvard University. She has published widely on health practitioner regulation, patient safety and healthcare complaints resolution.

Tara Sklar is a Research Fellow with the Law and Public Health Group at the University of Melbourne. Prior to this she served as the inaugural Director of Ageing Programs and established the first multidisciplinary online Master of Ageing degree, which bridges six faculties across the University of Melbourne. She currently serves as an advisor to PwC Consulting on Mapping Australia’s Infrastructure Needs in Ageing. Tara has previously provided in-house legal counsel for hospitals and government agencies in the USA. She graduated magna cum laude from Tulane University and has a dual degree Juris Doctor/ Master of Public Health from the University of Texas and the University of Houston. Her research and teaching interests include health law, elder law, regulatory policy and health care leadership.