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FAQs

Disciplinary Complaints and Resources for the Public

What is the Office of Disciplinary Counsel?

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) was created by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to investigate and prosecute complaints of ethical misconduct against lawyers licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia who violate the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC).

The Rules describe a lawyer’s obligation to clients, the courts, and the general public in professional and private dealings. The purpose of this process is to protect the public by disciplining lawyers who violate the ethics rules. Our office cannot consider complaints against judges acting in a judicial capacity.

For additional information, see Purpose and Mission.
 

Can you represent me in court or give me legal advice?

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel cannot represent you, give you any legal advice, or change the outcome of a court decision.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel cannot refer you to an attorney. You may consult the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center to obtain information. The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center sponsors a free monthly Advice & Referral Clinic, where you can speak with a lawyer at no charge to determine if you have a legal problem and possibly receive a referral to a legal or other service provider. For clinic locations and times, call the Legal Information Help Line at 202-626-3499.

Free Legal Help 

Contact the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center if you are an individual living in poverty who is at risk of losing your home, your livelihood, or your family. The Center also helps small businesses and community-based nonprofits needing legal assistance.

I am having problems with my attorney. What should I do?

Try to resolve issues with your attorney by communicating your concerns clearly and asking for a response.  Your attorney should clearly explain the fee agreement and scope of representation, keep you aware of developments in your case, and respond to any reasonable requests you may have for information.


If you feel that your problem is the result of poor communication or a misunderstanding between you and the attorney, you should have an open talk with the attorney before you file a complaint.
 

Can you help me contact my attorney?

The D.C. Bar’s Find a Member feature provides the same publicly available contact information for attorneys that we would be able to share with you.  If you are still unable to reach your attorney, you may need to file a complaint with our office.

Is my attorney licensed in the District of Columbia?

The D.C. Bar’s Find a Member feature enables a search of all attorneys licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia.  If an attorney is not listed as authorized to practice law and is advising you about D.C. law or representing you in Superior Court, please contact the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Is there a fee for filing a complaint?

No.

Will the attorney know that I have filed a complaint?

If we determine that your complaint should be docketed for investigation because it alleges facts that, if true, would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, your complaint will be forwarded to the attorney for a response.

When should I file a complaint against an attorney?

If you believe your attorney has violated the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, you should file a written complaint or complete and submit the complaint form (signed and dated) to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel via mail or fax. The form must be properly completed. Along with the complaint form, please submit relevant documents and information, including:

  • Copies of fee or retainer agreements or statements;
  • Copies of letters, faxes, emails, and other correspondence that relates to the subject of the complaint;
  • Copies of legal documents in your possession;
  • Copies of filings or statements received by you from the attorney; and
  • Copies of canceled checks or evidence of any payments made by you to the attorney.

If you do not provide facts and documentation that support your complaint, it may result in either a request for additional information or a dismissal of the complaint.

You do not need to identify any rules you believe that the attorney has violated.  In general, the Rules of Professional Conduct ensure that attorneys provide competent representation, protect the interests of their clients, act fairly, and are honest.

DO NOT SEND US ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS. WE CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR SAFEKEEPING OR RETURN TO YOU.

*The Office of Disciplinary Counsel does not represent you against the attorney or in any ongoing case involving that attorney.

What information should I put in my complaint?

A complaint should contain all information allowing Disciplinary Counsel to understand the problem.  This should include your contact information, the attorney’s contact information, case numbers of underlying court cases, and a description of the problem you are having with the attorney.  Include dates, the nature of the legal matter, and specific information about what you think the attorney did wrong.  Provide as much facts and supporting documents as possible, including the fee agreement, court papers, and letters or notes that you would like us to consider. Send copies. DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS.

What happens after I submit a complaint to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel?

Your complaint will be reviewed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to ensure that it falls within the jurisdiction of the office and evaluated to determine if there are issues that form the basis of a disciplinary investigation. If the complaint falls within the office’s jurisdiction, it will be assigned to an attorney to conduct a preliminary inquiry or a disciplinary investigation. The assigned attorney will notify you if they are conducting a preliminary inquiry or if they are undertaking a confidential investigation of your complaint. You will be contacted if additional information is needed.

After the preliminary inquiry or disciplinary investigation is completed, you will receive by mail official notification of the disposition of your complaint. The complaint may be resolved through a review process, which includes one of the following:

  • Dismissal of the complaint;
  • Impose private discipline (diversion agreement);
  • Impose public discipline (informal admonition);
  • File formal disciplinary charges against the attorney. When charges are formally filed by petition, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel has the responsibility for prosecuting the charges before a hearing committee, the Board on Professional Responsibility, and ultimately the D.C. Court of Appeals. The charging document and the attorney response are public and will be posted on the D.C. Bar’s website. If the discipline includes suspension or disbarment, it must be review and approved by the D.C. Court of Appeals. All public discipline is posted on the D.C. Bar’s website.

Can I withdraw my complaint?

No.  You may let us know if you are satisfied with any remedial actions taken by your attorney, but Disciplinary Counsel is still obligated to investigate your complaint.

Will I be notified of the outcome of Disciplinary Counsel’s investigation of my complaint?

Yes.  We may reach out to you for further information, and you will be notified of the outcome of our investigation.

What are the different types of attorney discipline?

Any of the following sanctions may be imposed on an attorney for a disciplinary violation:

  1. Disbarment of the attorney from the practice of law. The attorney is prohibited from practicing law for at least five years and must petition for reinstatement to the bar and prove fitness to resume the practice of law.
  2. Suspension for an appropriate fixed period of time not to exceed three years. The length of time depends on the nature of the misconduct. Any order of suspension may include a requirement that the attorney provide proof of rehabilitation as a condition of reinstatement. In the absence of such a requirement, the attorney may resume practice at the end of the period of suspension.
  3. Censure. The attorney permitted to continue practicing law is publicly censured for misconduct but is permitted to continue practicing law.
  4. Reprimand. The attorney is publicly reprimanded for misconduct but is permitted to continue practicing law.
  5. Informal admonition. The attorney is written a letter of admonition by the Disciplinary Counsel for misconduct but permitted to continue practicing law.
  6. Revocation or suspension of a license to practice as a Special Legal Consultant.
  7. Probation. The Court imposes conditions that are related to the misconduct for not more than three years. Probation may be imposed in lieu of or in addition to any other disciplinary sanction. Any conditions of probation shall be stated in writing in the order imposing probation. The order shall also state whether, and to what extent, the attorney shall be required to notify clients of the probation. The Board by rule shall establish procedures for the supervision of probation. Violation of any condition of probation shall make the attorney subject to revocation of probation and the imposition of any other disciplinary sanction listed in this subsection, but only to the extent stated in the order imposing probation.

Have other complaints been filed against my attorney?

You can look to see whether your attorney has been disciplined.  Disciplinary Counsel is not permitted to disclose whether complaints were filed against an attorney unless they result in public discipline.

Is there a time limit for filing a complaint?

No.  It may be more difficult to investigate a complaint after significant time has passed, but there is no statute of limitations for filing a complaint with Disciplinary Counsel.

What can Disciplinary Counsel do?

Disciplinary Counsel has the authority to investigate complaints against attorneys.  If we believe an attorney has violated their obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct, we can seek to discipline the attorney.

What are things Disciplinary Counsel cannot do?

Disciplinary Counsel cannot:

  • Represent you in any proceeding
  • Give you legal advice 
  • Recommend an attorney
  • Stop other legal proceedings
  • Recover money
  • Force an attorney to do something

Can I call Disciplinary Counsel if I have a question?

Yes.  All complaints need to be in writing, but if you have a question about the process or whether you should file a complaint, please call us at 202-638-1501.

How can I get my money back from an attorney?

If you are unhappy about a legal fee, in addition to contacting our office you may file a fee dispute with the D.C. Bar’s Attorney/Client Arbitration Board.  If you have lost funds due to an attorney’s dishonest conduct, you may be able to seek reimbursement from the D.C. Bar’s Clients’ Security Fund.

What if my attorney is licensed in another jurisdiction?

You can contact similar offices in other jurisdictions.

Confidentiality

Disciplinary Counsel may not publicly disclose that the complaint has been filed. The D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct requires the Disciplinary Counsel to treat complaints as confidential matters until the attorney has been served with a petition instituting formal charges or has agreed to be formally disciplined.

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