As a California lawyer, you may ultimately have a client that doesn't feel that you did a good job. He or she may file a complaint with the State Bar, alleging some wrongdoing on your part. In many cases, such complaints arise out of the client's dissatisfaction with the outcome of their case. However, this doesn't mean that you should ignore that envelope containing a Notice of Disciplinary Charges or an inquiry letter.
Your next moves will determine whether you face censure or end up with a suspension that prevents you from practicing law for a period of time. You need to take any complaint seriously.
Most common complaints
The most common client complaints stem from one of the following perceived inadequacies on your part:
- Failing to communicate
- Billing errors
- Misuse of client funds
- Being dishonest with your client or the court
- Failing to appear at a scheduled court hearing
- Failing to competently handle their case
Your best defense against such allegations is to keep accurate and complete records, but that isn't always enough. You may end up having to defend yourself to the State Bar in order to resolve the matter.
Abraham Lincoln was right
Abraham Lincoln said it best when he said, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." More than likely, you wouldn't recommend that a doctor, nurse or some other professional go it alone when facing disciplinary action from their licensure boards. Therefore, you probably shouldn't either.
If the accusations are unfounded, you still need to go through the process and provide the necessary proof to rebut your client's complaints. If there is some truth to the accusations, an attorney who routinely defends other attorneys in disciplinary actions can help you accept responsibility for your mistakes, demonstrate that you are taking the necessary actions to prevent the error from occurring again and make amends to your client in a manner that satisfies the State Bar Court.
Regardless of whether you believe your client's accusations are ridiculous or false, the matter isn't going to go away on its own. An attorney who helps other attorneys facing client complaints knows the procedures, rules and laws governing disciplinary action -- probably better than you do. This is one time that you should let someone else advocate on your behalf.