The short answer
You can lodge a complaint with the Legal Practice Council and lay criminal charges with the police.
The whole question
I tried to buy a plot in Cape Town for R200,000. The lawyer who was managing the sale process told me to deposit R100,000 to the seller and the other R100,000 to the lawyer's trust account. I didn't hear from them for a few months and when I followed up with the law firm they told me the lawyer who helped us no longer worked there. When I managed to track down the lawyer, she told me the seller sold the plot and that I should recover the money from them. She said that she paid R30,000 to an agent involved in the sales process who needed to be paid even if the plot was not transferred – with my agreement. In the end, I only managed to get R70,000 back from her. I reported it to the Law Society but they did not take it up.
How can I get the remaining R130,000 back?
The long answer
It is a very serious crime for a lawyer to swindle a client out of money, and I am surprised that the Law Society did not pursue it. The Law Society of South Africa states:
"It is part of the function of the councils of the law societies to act in the public interest. The law societies are committed to protecting the public against unprofessional and irresponsible conduct by attorneys and are prepared to investigate complaints which are submitted to them in good faith and which fall within their jurisdiction.”
The Department of Justice says that complaints about attorneys should be lodged with the relevant office of the Legal Practice Council, as “Attorneys fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Legal Practice Council.”
Complaints forms are available from the Legal Practice Council website.
Also, they say that members of the public can lodge complaints against any law professional through a legal hotline called the “Trustline” initiative which is run by the Law Society of South Africa and the Attorneys Fidelity Fund The public can lodge complaints at 0800-202-036 or at email@example.com.
An article in October 2022 in de Rebus on the consequences of theft of trust money by legal practitioners, states as follows:
“A complainant or erstwhile client whose money was stolen by a legal practitioner has the right, not only to lodge a complaint with the Legal Practice Council (LPC), but also to lay criminal charges with the South African Police Service (the police) against the practitioner concerned. It is not necessary for the victim of theft to await the outcome of any disciplinary inquiry by the LPC against the practitioner concerned before they can open a criminal case. The LPC – as the regulator – is also entitled to open a criminal case against a practitioner if it has reason to believe that a crime has been committed.
"The claimant has the right, among others, to lay criminal charges against the legal practitioner concerned and to institute civil proceedings to recover the stolen trust funds.”
You can also contact Legal Aid Advice Line toll-free 0800 110 110, or mail them at LegalAidAdvice@legal-aid.co.za. For more information visit their website: http://www.legal-aid.co.za.
Wishing you the best,
Answered on May 19, 2023, 10:14 a.m.
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