We asked attorneys as well as other legal professionals throughout the nation one question: When should you report an attorney to the state's bar? There are good attorneys who act accordingly, but what can you do to those attorneys who commit ethical violations? Since there are always going to be a few bad apples, we hope the advice below will help guide you in making a decision if you should report an attorney for unethical violations.
I'm an attorney in Columbus, Ohio. Under the Ohio Rules for Professional Conduct, an attorney is required to report any other attorney any time there is an ethical violation. If they don't, the witnessing attorney commits an ethical violation by failing to report any witnessed ethical violations of other attorneys.
-Shane A. McClelland, an attorney in Columbus, OH
If one attorneys knows another attorney is violating ethics rules, that attorney MUST report the offending attorney to the state bar. For non-lawyers, things are a little different. If the non-lawyer feels the lawyer is engaging in a conflict of interest (advising both sides in a divorce, representing you while representing the other side in another matter), then the state Bar should be called.
Unfortunately, too many times people complain to the state bar because they are unhappy their lawyer didn't return their call fast enough, or for some other silly reason. Save the calls for big deals, not minor annoyances.
-Shane Fischer, Attorney at Law
Although attorneys are my clients, the good ones thank me for helping to end the careers of the bad ones, which I have done, twice.
Attorneys should be reported to the State Bar immediately upon discovering a crime has been committed, after first reporting criminal activity to the police, who may or may not act quickly/suggest a civil remedy.
The police suggesting a civil remedy is an example of paying taxes for services the police refuse to render. This happened in the case of attorney Patricia Gregory, who was initially protected by the DA, after Gregory embezzled from her clients.
I discovered the reason for that was Gregory used to work for the DA's office, ironically in child support enforcement.
So the DA assisted Gregory by delaying prosecution for two years, which allowed the statue of limitations to run.
Eventually though, Gregory was disbarred. After the State Bar did all the heavy lifting, Gregory was finally prosecuted and served time.
The State Bar in California has much improved after the Ron Lais debacle. Lais eventually served six years for his crimes. But the State Bar had ignored claims against him for almost a decade.
The standard for bar complaints is whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the lawyer committed an ethical violation - that is a high standard to meet and does not include minor issues or simply getting a bad result in your case. If a complaint if filed for lesser reasons, it will require the complainant, bar counsel and the attorney to spend significant resources, but will likely be dismissed.
Often times, raising your concerns directly with the attorney is a far more productive expenditure of time because attorneys have an incentive to avoid bar complaints and therefore may be willing to compromise. Nevertheless, if your attorney is ignoring you or clearly violating a basic duty, then a bar complaint is in order because it may be your last resort. Once one is filed, however, it is likely that the attorney will not be willing to negotiate any further with you because that may be seen as an acknowledgement that he or she did something wrong. So, it is often better to try to work out your differences before filing a case.
Moreover, filing a bar complaint generally does not automatically result in compensation to the client. So, to obtain compensation more quickly, it may make sense to instead consult another attorney in the same field for a second opinion. If that second attorney agrees that the first one did something wrong, they may be willing to take on the case and obtain compensation for you or spur the first lawyer to act appropriately.
Thomas J. Simeone, Esq.
Simeone & Miller, LLP