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A client filed a complaint – What happens next?

Most lawyers work hard to provide excellent service to their clients, but like any customer-facing business, not every client leaves satisfied.

When your client files an allegation of professional misconduct, the State Bar of California has the authority to decide if punishment is necessary.

Does the complaint indicate misconduct?

The State Bar reviews complaints on a case-by-case basis, and each one is different. If a client reports concerning conduct, the Bar will assign an investigator to the case. A few potential violations include perjury, theft of client funds and abandonment.

Does the Bar’s investigation confirm misconduct?

If the Bar investigates a claim and verifies evidence of attorney misconduct, then it will decide on an appropriate action based on the circumstances of the complaint.

In some situations, the State Bar finds an indication of borderline misconduct, but instead of initiating a full investigation, it may suggest a private resolution or alternative discipline.

Does the misconduct warrant discipline?

If an investigation finds evidence that the attorney has committed an ethical violation per the Rules of Professional Misconduct, and the attorney has not settled with the client, then the Bar may file charges. Potential punishments include:

  • Private reprimand
  • Public admonition
  • Disbarment

If there is no evidence of misconduct, the Bar will close the case and notify the attorney of its completion.

If you receive a complaint from a client, it is important to remain calm and prevent escalation. Understanding the State Bar’s process and approach to disciplinary issues will help you protect your professional license to practice law in California.

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