The practice of law is challenging enough without the added pressure of a client complaint. Knowing how carefully and thoroughly the State Bar of California takes any complaint against an attorney, you have a right to be concerned about what may happen while the board considers the allegations against you.

You also have a right to be part of the process and to seek legal counsel to assist you throughout the development of the case. Since the penalties are severe for an attorney whom the board finds guilty of misconduct or ethical violations, you may wish to know what happens at each step after someone files a complaint against you.

Filing a complaint

A client who wants to file a complaint against you must do so in writing and include documentation of any potentially criminal or unethical behavior on your part. This may include accusations that you failed to return calls or maintain contact with your client, you did not inform your client of a settlement check you received, or you settled a case without your client’s permission, for example.

The board will acknowledge the receipt of that information and carefully review it. At this point, someone from the State Bar will contact you to inform you of the complaint. The board may also contact law enforcement if the accusations involve criminal matters.

What happens next?

Time may seem to drag going forward, as it may take six months for the Board to complete its investigation of the complaint. If the Board decides to file charges against you, the details of the complaint will appear on the State Bar website for the public to access. You will then have an opportunity to discuss a settlement option or to go to trial. During the trial, if the judge determines the complaint is valid, you are likely to face disciplinary actions, which may include the following:

  • A warning
  • Public discipline
  • Suspension
  • Disbarment

A case that includes allegations of criminal misconduct may involve a criminal trial as well, which places you at risk of further penalties if convicted.

The seriousness of a complaint cannot be emphasized enough. Those who practice law must uphold the highest standards, and the State Board’s job is to ensure compliance to those standards. However, you do not have to face a disciplinary action without the aid of a skilled attorney who has experience defending attorneys in these situations.