What You Should Know before Filing a Complaint
- All lawyers admitted to practice in Massachusetts are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The purpose of the Rules is to set forth minimum ethical standards for the practice of law. It is the responsibility of the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel to see that the Rules of Professional Conduct are observed.
- Serious neglect of a client's case or a client. Examples would be a lawyer's failure to file papers or documents with the court within time periods prescribed by law, or unreasonable failure to communicate with clients on a timely basis.
How to File a Complaint
Complaint forms can be obtained by telephoning the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP), as explained above. Because of the confidentiality requirements complaints cannot be accepted via e-mail. Send complaints to the address below.
Office of the Bar Counsel
99 High Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02110
What Your Complaint Should Contain
In order for the investigation to proceed, it will be necessary that you provide as many facts and as much documentation as possible. Although you may feel certain that the acts complained of constitute misconduct, a simple statement that misconduct has occurred is not enough. You should set forth the facts surrounding your complaint. Include dates, the nature of the legal matter, and specific information about what you feel the lawyer did wrong. If you have documents, including a fee agreement, court papers, letters or notes, that you think are helpful to understand the complaint, send copies. DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS .
Clients should not hesitate to ask their lawyers about anything concerning their cases, including costs and fees. Before filing a complaint, the client should try to discuss the problem candidly and openly with the lawyer. Clients may become dissatisfied with their lawyers for many reasons, but unless there is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. discipline will not be imposed.
If you have any doubts about whether to proceed, the Office of the Bar Counsel will try to answer any questions you may have. The address and telephone number are listed above.
What Happens When You File a Complaint
After screening by ACAP, complaint forms are submitted to the Office of the Bar Counsel for investigation. Sometimes a complaint does not fit within the area that is regulated by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Please read the section entitled What Not to Expect. If Bar Counsel determines that your complaint falls into one of these categories, the complaint will be closed and notice will be sent to you. You may request review of this decision by a member of the Board. However, there is no appeal from a decision by the Board not to bring disciplinary charges against an attorney.
If a lawyer is found to have committed a relatively minor infraction of the rules, the lawyer may receive an admonition. If there appears to be serious misconduct, the matter is referred to a local Hearing Committee appointed by the Board. All the evidence is reviewed and considered. Each side is heard. The Hearing Committee then submits a written report to the Board with its recommendation as to discipline.
If Bar Counsel and the lawyer reach agreement as to discipline, the recommendation may be submitted directly to the Board without referral to a Hearing Committee.
The Board may accept or modify the recommendation for discipline. If the Board feels it needs
additional information, it may return the case to the Hearing Committee for further hearing, or conduct hearings of its own before making a final determination.
What Sanctions are Available
The types of discipline that may be imposed by the Board are:
- Admonition. which means that the lawyer is reproved. A record is made of the reproval, but the name of the lawyer is not made public.
Sometimes one of the above disciplines may be imposed with terms of probation. An attorney may also resign from the bar rather than face disciplinary action, but only with the Court's consent.
Decisions of the Board and the Court with respect to public discipline are released for publication. Recently-published decisions and orders are available on this website.
What to Expect
Complaints are not dismissed lightly, nor are they prosecuted without justification. The protection of the public is paramount in considering every complaint filed.You may expect.
There are no charges or other costs to you by the Office of the Bar Counsel or the Board of Bar Overseers.
What Not to Expect
You should not expect the Office of the Bar Counsel or the Board of Bar Overseers to provide legal services or advice. If you wish to be referred to a lawyer you might contact the Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (617) 654-0400 in Boston or (866) MASSLRS which is (866) 627-7577 or the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (617) 742-0625. The lawyers at the Office of the Bar Counsel do not and cannot represent you personally in the matters of which you complain.
Although a lawyer may take corrective steps to avoid disciplinary action after he receives a complaint, the Board of Bar Overseers does not have power to compel a lawyer to refund money, release your case, or return files. The Board has only the power to discipline attorneys or recommend discipline to the Court.
You may have a civil claim against your lawyer that can be pursued in the courts, a fee dispute that can be resolved by a bar association fee arbitration board, or a claim that will be considered by the Clients' Security Board. The Office of the Bar Counsel will tell you where to explore these other possibilities in appropriate cases.
Under Supreme Judicial Court rules, the Board and Bar Counsel must treat complaints as confidential matters. Until the lawyer has been served with a petition for discipline instituting formal charges or has agreed to be formally disciplined, the Board and Bar Counsel may not publicly disclose that the complaint has been filed. Certain narrow exceptions to this prohibition exist. You are immune from liability based on your complaint.
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