How to File a Complaint Against an Attorney
Lawyers are supposed to help with legal troubles, but what happens when lawyers don't follow the rules — or create legal issues of their own?
If a lawyer engages in misconduct, you may be able to file a grievance or complaint with the court or a state licensing authority.
A formal complaint usually requires something more than being unsatisfied with the outcome of your case. You may be able to file a complaint if the attorney violated ethical rules, engaged in criminal conduct or breached their duty to you. Grounds for a complaint may vary based on your location and your relationship with the lawyer.
You might have grounds for a complaint if a lawyer mishandled money or property that belonged to you. If a lawyer overcharges you or refuses to refund an unearned retainer payment, you probably have a reason to file a complaint.
Lawyers often receive settlement money or other payments on behalf of their clients. Lawyers are required to give clients money promptly and provide an accounting of any funds withheld as payment. Occasionally, lawyers mishandle funds owed to a party who isn't their client. For example, a divorce lawyer could fail to send funds to the opposing party as part of a settlement agreement.
Lawyers must communicate with clients and provide reasonable updates about legal matters. You could have grounds for a grievance or other complaint against your lawyer if they fail to maintain reasonable communication, especially if it causes problems with your case.
A lawyer agrees to do specific work when hired and could get in trouble if the work isn't done. Sometimes, lawyers need to stop representing a client and can withdraw from the case. However, the lawyer must let you know and may need permission from the court.
Licensed attorneys must follow laws and ethics rules in their state. These rules can vary based on where the lawyer is located, but common rules require lawyers to:
- Avoid conflicts of interests
- Respect attorney-client privilege and not share confidential information
- Avoid making improper promises or guaranteeing a particular outcome
Attorneys who violate ethics rules can face penalties or lose their license to practice.
The law can be nuanced, and not every legal case is successful. Reasonable lawyers may disagree about case strategy or even how to interpret a confusing law. However, if a lawyer negligently gives you bad advice, you might have grounds for a complaint.
You can report a lawyer's criminal conduct whether or not they represent you. For example, you could file a complaint against an opposing attorney threatening you with violence or blackmail.
More Related Articles:
- When Do You Need a Lawyer? Determine If You Need to Hire an Attorney
- What Is a Class-Action Lawsuit?
- What Is a Misdemeanor?
- What to Do After a Car Accident
- What Is Power of Attorney?
Talk to a Pro
Call to be connected to a local professional
Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to file a complaint with an attorney regulation authority, notify the relevant court or file a malpractice lawsuit.
State Bar Associations, offices of attorney regulation or similar departments control licenses to practice law in each state and operate under a state's highest court. Disciplinary committees within these departments usually handle complaints about attorneys.
The precise procedure for filing a complaint with a licensing authority varies by state. Your first step is to visit the website for the office attorney regulation, and most states also have a number you can call.
You may be able to file a complaint form online detailing your issue, but be prepared to provide additional information later or even testify at a hearing. The office will investigate your complaint and may hold a hearing to determine whether the attorney should face disciplinary action. Attorneys who violate ethics rules may be required to pay fines, complete additional education or meet other requirements. In severe cases, the attorney could be disbarred.
Sometimes, you may wish to notify the presiding judge if you believe a lawyer on a case has done something improper. As an example, if you believe a lawyer is improperly influencing witnesses in a case, asking the judge to address the problem immediately could be the best course of action. However, because these accusations are serious and can impact your case, you should seek advice from your own counsel first.
You may wish to file a malpractice lawsuit against a lawyer in serious cases. If your lawyer's misconduct caused you to lose a case or suffer other damages, a malpractice lawsuit could help you recover.
Generally, you can only file a malpractice suit against a lawyer who represented you. In rare cases, you may be able to file another claim against an opposing lawyer for specific issues like malicious prosecution.
Elocal Editorial Content is for educational and entertainment purposes only. The information provided on this site is not legal advice, and no attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed by use of the Editorial Content. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options or strategies. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the eLocal Editorial Team and other third-party content providers do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of eLocal or its affiliate companies. Use of the Blog is subject to theWebsite Terms and Conditions.
The eLocal Editorial Team operates independently of eLocal USA's marketing and sales decisions.