Information for Grievants (Those with Complaints Against Lawyers)

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Grievance?

Most people who want to complain to the bar association about a lawyer can do so on their own. In unusual circumstances, such as those involving complicated or novel ethical issues, a grievant might choose to retain a lawyer. However, generally it is not worth the expense of hiring a lawyer to assist with filing a grievance.

Here are some important things to know before you file a grievance. The following is general information only and is not a substitute for personal legal advice, which can only be provided after consideration of the specific facts at issue.

Bar Grievances Are Not Intended to Compensate You

If your main goal is to get financial compensation from the lawyer, you may wish to talk to a legal malpractice lawyer instead of filing a grievance. (Anne Seidel does not handle malpractice cases.) Although the bar association has the authority to seek restitution against lawyers who are found to have violated the ethical rules, that isn't the main focus of the lawyer discipline system.

If you do decide to hire a malpractice lawyer, keep in mind that lawyers in Washington State are not required to have malpractice insurance. You can do an initial check to see if your former lawyer is insured by looking him or her up on the bar's lawyer directory. Because this information may not be up-to-date, it is possible a lawyer is listed as having insurance who does not or vice versa.

Not Everything that is "Wrong" Violates the Ethical Rules

Lawyers can only be disciplined for violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC). Some people choose to read through the relevant portion of the rules before filing a grievance. If you want to do this, the table of contents provides a good way of narrowing down where you should look. The rules are organized so the rule itself shows up first, followed by comments. The comments are intended to provide guidance on what the rule means, but the text of the rule is what is most important. Once you know the rule that applies in your case, you can search the bar's discipline records to see what kind of conduct has been found to violate that rule.

Concentrate on What the Lawyer Did Wrong

The bar gets thousands of grievances a year. The clearer your grievance is, the better chance you have that they will understand what happened to you and process your grievance correctly. To do this, try to eliminate all unnecessary details. Summarize the background information as much as you can. If there are details that are lengthy and critical, but obscure your main point, you can always submit an attachment that tells the bigger story. Read what you have written and ask yourself if someone who knows nothing about your situation would both understand what happened and not get bogged down. This is difficult to do when you're involved in the case, so you may want to ask a friend to do this for you.

For additional information on filing a grievance, visit the bar's webpage on grievances.

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