How To File a Complaint to Have an Attorney Disciplined

How To File a Complaint to Have an Attorney Disciplined

No one is above the law... not even lawyers and judges

Attorneys are sometimes wrong, just like other people. They are held to a different set of standards, and are expected to follow legal and ethical rules. If you believe your lawyer has violated these rules, each state has an avenue for filing a complaint.
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When you hire a lawyer after a car accident or other personal injury, the most important thing to consider is whether you trust that person. Yes, there are other things to look for, too — such as experience and skill. But knowing that your lawyer is ethical, truthful, and honest will be crucial as you enter an attorney/client relationship.

Each attorney is required to follow the Rules of Professional Conduct set forth by the American Bar Association. Each state has its own rules, too. Some rules are based on how attorneys advertise or represent themselves, but others have to do with how they handle clients’ money or your case file.

Examples of attorney misconduct

Just because you may not agree with your attorney or do not get along with them doesn’t mean that they are necessarily behaving unprofessionally or unethically.

Here are a few examples of what an attorney might do that violates the ABA Rules:

  1. Serious neglect of your legal matter. No, we’re not talking about making you wait a week (or longer) for a returned phone call, or taking a while to conduct discovery. Serious neglect would be missing important court deadlines that jeopardize the outcome of your claim, for example. It could also be failing to present you with information crucial to the case, like if the opposition made a settlement offer that you need to accept or decline.
  2. Mishandling of finances. Your lawyer is required to be able to account for any of your money or property that they’re holding for any reason. They are not permitted to commingle your money with their own.
  3. Over billing. You are entitled to know what your lawyer is being paid to do. Some line items might be vague (like “research”), but if you’re being billed hourly it should not be an excessive amount of time. In most personal injury cases, lawyers are paid on a contingency basis (not hourly). That means you pay them an agreed upon percentage of the damages you recover from your claim. However, there can be (and likely are) additional expenses if the lawyer must hire experts, travel, or incurs other fees.
  4. Refusal to hand over your case file. Once your case has concluded, you’re entitled to recover your case file. If they don’t do so at your request, this is a violation of professional conduct.
  5. Conflict of interest. There are a lot of examples of conflicts of interest that would prohibit an attorney from representing you in a legal action. A conflict of interest is when their personal or business interests would compromise the lawyer’s judgment, decisions or actions with respect to your case. For example, if you are pursuing a slip-and-fall claim against a store that’s owned by your lawyer’s brother, that would be a clear conflict of interest. Your lawyer can’t represent your best interests if they also feel loyalty to the family member who is the defendant. As soon as it becomes known that there is a potential conflict, the lawyer has a professional responsibility to recuse themself from the case. Even if the defendant isn’t their family member, but is a neighbor, old high school friend, or any other person with whom they had even a minor relationship, it would be a conflict of interest to be involved in a legal proceeding where they are involved.
  6. Dishonesty. This is very broad, and it could be dishonesty to you, to the court, or to anyone else involved in the case. Yes, lawyers need to occasionally withhold information in order to have effective legal strategy, but there are ways to accomplish that within the confines of professional ethics rules.
  7. Criminal conduct. This is wide-ranging and could be related to the attorney’s legal practice or not.

Sanctions (disciplinary measures) against attorneys

As in any other professional capacity, there is a scale of disciplinary action that can be taken against a lawyer that depends on the nature of the violation.

The state or local bar association will either issue a reprimand or put the lawyer on probation, suspension, or disbarment (which is the loss of their license to practice law). Each state’s bar association will determine how to handle these disciplinary measures.

Where to file a complaint against a lawyer in your state

Alabama State Bar Center for Professional Responsibility Alaska Bar Association
Arkansas Office of the Committee on Professional Conduct State Bar of California
Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee
Delaware Office of Disciplinary Counsel District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel
The Florida Bar General Counsel, State Bar of Georgia
Disciplinary Board of the Hawaii Supreme Court, Office of Disciplinary Counsel Bar Counsel for the Idaho State Bar
Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission
Iowa Supreme Court Office of Professional Regulation Kansas Disciplinary Administrator Office
Chief Bar Counsel, Kentucky Bar Association Louisiana Office of the Disciplinary Counsel
Bar Counsel, Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland
Massachusetts Office of the Bar Counsel Michigan Grievance Administrator, Attorney Grievance Commission or Attorney Disciplinary Board
Minnesota Office of Professional Responsibility General Counsel, Mississippi State Bar
Missouri Supreme Court, Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel Montana Disciplinary Counsel
Montana Disciplinary Counsel Counsel for Discipline, Nebraska Supreme Court
Bar Counsel, State Bar of Nevada New Hampshire Supreme Court, Attorney Discipline Office
Office of Attorney Ethics, Supreme Court of New Jersey Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of New Mexico
New York City, 1st Department
New York City, 2nd Department
New York State, 3rd Department
New York State, 4th Department
North Carolina State Bar
North Dakota Secretary of the Disciplinary Board Office of the Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Administrator-Grievance Committee Dayton Bar Association
The Toledo Bar Association
Grievance Director Akron Bar Association
General Counsel, Cincinnati Bar Association
Bar Counsel, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association
Bar Counsel, Columbus Bar Association
General Counsel Oklahoma Bar Association Oregon State Bar Disciplinary Counsel’s Office
Pennsylvania Chief Disciplinary Counsel Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island
South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel South Dakota Disciplinary Board Counsel
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee Texas Chief Disciplinary Counsel
Utah State Bar Office of Professional Conduct Vermont Office of Disciplinary Counsel
Virginia Bar Counsel Director of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel
Washington State Bar Association
West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation
Bar Counsel, Wyoming State Bar American Samoa Bar Association
GBA Ethics Prosecutor, Office of the Guam Bar Association Guam Judicial Center Tribunal Supremo de Puerto Rico Department of Justice
Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico
Office of Disciplinary Counsel Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands  

There are also reporting agencies related to patent and military attorneys:

If you believe that your lawyer’s conduct violates the Rules of Ethics, you should probably begin by contacting your own state bar association for more information. The staff can tell you whether your claim rises to the level of filing a complaint.

You can also contact a different lawyer for an opinion. If you wish to pursue answers that way, you can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find an attorney who can help.


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