This page provides answers to some frequently asked questions. The following is not intended to be legal advice nor should it be considered to be a substitute for personal legal advice, which can only be provided after consideration of the specific facts at issue.
You may also want to look at the resources on the links page. Although I try to keep this information current, it may not reflect the most recent developments. This website reflects my opinion on certain issues; others (including the Washington State Bar Association) may have a different viewpoint.
Q. I just received a letter from the bar telling me a grievance was filed against me. I have a big trial starting in three months. Should I make arrangements for someone else to handle my trial in case my license is suspended?
A. I would need to know more about the specifics of the grievance against you to answer your question, but in general, it is highly unlikely that you could be suspended within three months of having a grievance filed against you. Only the Washington Supreme Court has the authority to suspend a lawyer’s license. There is a procedure under which the bar can ask the Supreme Court to suspend a lawyer’s license during an investigation, but that occurs only in the most egregious cases, where the lawyer's continued practice can be shown to pose “a substantial threat of serious harm to the public.” ELC 7.2.
Q. The opposing party filed a grievance against me. Do I tell the bar I can't answer the grievance because of client confidentiality?
A. Unless you object under ELC 5.6, you can't refuse to answer based on the attorney-client privilege. See ELC 5.4(b). If the grievant was not your client, be very careful with any information relating to the representation. You can ask to have your response or portions of the response withheld from the grievant under ELC 5.1(c)(3)(A). Often, the best practice is to send the bar both a full response that contains the confidential information and a redacted version of the letter that can be forwarded by the bar to the grievant. Indicate prominently on the full response that it contains confidential information that you are requesting not be forwarded to the grievant.
Q. If I hire a lawyer to represent me in connection with a grievance, does that make the bar think I must have done something wrong?
A. Probably not. A lot of grievances where the respondent lawyer is represented are dismissed and many lawyers hire counsel simply to avoid having to deal with ODC directly. But if this is a concern for you, one option you have is to continue to represent yourself but consult with a lawyer about anything you intend to send to ODC.
Q. What are some of the factors I should consider when deciding whether I should hire someone to represent me during an investigation of a bar grievance?
A. The seriousness of the allegations against you, the complexity of the rules involved, your familiarity with the RPCs and your comfort level in dealing directly with disciplinary counsel are all factors you may want to weigh. If you have received a letter from ODC indicating that it is recommending a hearing, you should seriously consider consulting with counsel and if you choose to do so, do not delay after receiving that letter. Many lawyers also choose to be represented after receiving a subpoena for a deposition.
Q. Will my malpractice insurance help me with a grievance?
A. Possibly. You should check your policy to see if you have supplemental coverage for defense of bar grievances. Under some policies, there is no deductible for that coverage. Typically policies will exclude any attorney fees incurred before the claim is made. Your carrier may also reject your claim if you wait too long to make it.
Q. Are lawyers required to have malpractice insurance?
A. Not in Washington state. The bar's lawyer directory should tell you whether a lawyer has malpractice insurance. (This is based on the lawyer's own report and is done annually, so it may not be accurate in every instance).
Q. Do you have a conflict waiver form I can use?
A. Each conflict waiver should be considered individually to make sure it reflects that the client gave informed consent. Freivogel on Conflicts, an online treatise on conflicts of interests, has a number of forms. Please consider use of these forms carefully and read the accompanying warnings.
If there is more than one client involved, you should address not only the potential conflict but also confidentiality of information between the clients.
Q. Is there a resource you recommend that describes how to keep a trust account?
A. The Bar's trust account booklet describes step-by-step how to handle a trust account.
Q. I'm worried I'm not handling my trust account correctly, but I'm not an accountant. What should I do?
A. The Bar's trust account booklet describes step-by-step what you need to do for your trust account. If that does not provide enough guidance, I can review the records to determine if they are in full compliance with the RPCs and make recommendations if the records are inadequate. You can also call or email the bar's auditor to ask specific trust account questions. You don't need any bookkeeping or accounting knowledge to keep your trust account yourself, but some lawyers prefer to use a bookkeeper or accountant. If you do so, you should keep in mind that bookkeepers and accountants often do not know the requirements for trust account records. So you should make sure anyone you hire is familiar with the trust account RPCs and the bar's trust account booklet.
Q. My lawyer mishandled my case. Will you sue him for malpractice?
A. No. I don't handle malpractice cases.
Q. Do you handle admission or readmission cases?
A. No. I don't handle any Character and Fitness matters.