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What Happens When You File a Bar Complaint Against Your Lawyer?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

You hired a lawyer a year ago. Since then, he hasn't returned your calls, answered your emails, or done any work on your case. (Most lawyers are more competent and conscientious than this.)

What do you do? You've tried to communicate with him, but he won't even meet with you. As a last resort, you want to file a bar complaint.

How do you do this, and what happens next?

Filing a Complaint

Each state has a bar association that regulates lawyers and their conduct. Any complaints should be addressed to your state's bar association. Most will have a complaint form on their website and guidance on how to fill it out.

Initial Investigation

All complaints are reviewed by lawyers employed by the State bar (don't worry about conflicts of interest). If the State bar believes that the conduct complained of is not an ethical violation, the case will be closed and you will be notified by mail.

Lawyer's Response

If the State bar determines that there may be evidence of an ethical violation, it will usually notify your lawyer and allow him to respond to the allegations. He may submit documents and evidence to justify his actions.

After the lawyer's response is received, the complaint will be reviewed again. If there is insufficient evidence to merit further investigation, then the case will be closed, and you will be notified.

More Investigation

If the State bar decides not to close the case, it will commence a formal investigation. During this investigation, you may be contacted to give further evidence. You may be required to testify at a formal hearing before the Disciplinary Board. This process can last anywhere from six to 18 months.


If the State bar concludes that your lawyer violated an ethics rule, your lawyer may face:

  • Probation -- If the violation is minor, your lawyer may be monitored and his practice restricted for a set amount of time.
  • Private reprimand -- This is a written reprimand from the state bar that will go into your lawyer's permanent file.
  • Public reprimand -- This written reprimand may be published in your local newspaper or your State bar's magazine.
  • Suspension -- For more serious violations, your lawyer may be suspended from practicing law. The length of suspension may vary from state to state.
  • Disbarment -- For the most egregious violations, your lawyer may be disbarred. This means he is stripped of his license to practice law. How many years he must wait before he can petition for reinstatement varies from state to state.

If you believe your attorney committed an ethical violation, an experienced legal malpractice lawyer may be able to help.

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