- persistent delay or failure to answer your calls
- not keeping confidences and secrets
- accepting cases involving a conflict of interest
- taking advantage of a client’s age or inexperience
- dishonesty or deceit
- failing to protect a client’s rights
- behaving improperly before a court
Some conduct falls outside the scope of the Rules of Professional Conduct. As such, the OBC has no power to:
- order your attorney to pay you compensation
- give you legal advice
- order your attorney to return your papers or property if you have not paid the fees you owe
- compel an attorney to act for you
- tell your attorney how to proceed with your case
- become involved in malpractice matters
- collect private debts
When a complaint is received, it will be reviewed to determine:
- whether the Office of Bar Counsel has jurisdiction to investigate the allegations
- whether the attorney is a D.C. Bar member
- whether the complaint alleges conduct which violates the Rules of Professional Conduct.
If the answer to all these questions is “yes,” the complaint is assigned a number and sent to your attorney, who is required to respond to your statements. Upon receipt of the attorney’s response, the OBC forwards a copy of that response to you for your comments.
The case is then reviewed to determine if there is enough information to make a decision. If additional information is needed, a staff attorney may investigate further.
Upon completion of the investigation, Bar counsel determines if there is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. If not, the case is dismissed. If so, Bar counsel may decide to issue an informal admonition, or to petition the Board on Professional Responsibility for a hearing on the case. An informal admonition is a private form of discipline wherein the attorney is advised that Bar counsel has determined that a violation of the rules has occurred, but that it is not necessary to institute formal disciplinary proceedings.
Petitioned cases are scheduled to be heard before a hearing committee consisting of two attorneys and one non-attorney. Bar counsel acts as a prosecutor in this hearing but does not actually represent individual complainants. As the complainant, you may however be called as a witness in support of Bar counsel’s case.
Following the hearing, the committee recommends discplinary action to the Board on Professional Responsibility (BPR). The BPR may:
- dismiss the case
- ratify an informal admonition
- issue a reprimand
- recommend censure, suspension or disbarment to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
The D.C. Court of Appeals must review the record and has final authority to order the appropriate sanction.
Once this process has been completed, Bar Counsel will inform you by letter concerning the outcome of your complaint.
Filing a complaint against an attorney is a serious matter. Do so only as a last resort when all efforts to work out the problem with your attorney have failed.