Grievances get filed against attorneys all the time – and many of them lack merit. Thousands of complaints about ethical violations may make it to the Bar, but only a few hundred are likely to result in any kind of disciplinary action.
Just the same, allegations of ethical violations can be frustrating, expensive to handle and upsetting. They can tarnish your reputation and put your livelihood in danger. Knowing more about what can lead to a complaint from a client can help you mitigate the risks.
5 grievances top the list
According to the American Bar Association, there are five items that top the list of complaints that are filed against attorneys:
- Neglect: Numerous things can lead a client to believe that they’ve received inadequate representation. When clients believe that you weren’t fully prepared, failed to present important evidence or let their claim flounder when action was clearly required, that’s likely to lead to a grievance.
- Lack of communication: Clients are understandably anxious about their cases, and when an attorney doesn’t respond to communications, they get angry. If the lack of communication leads to a poor outcome for their case, that anger is justified.
- Scope of representation: Attorneys always have to remember that the client is really in charge (within the limits of the law). That sometimes means settling when you want to fight or litigating when you think settling is better.
- Fee disputes or excessive fees: Sometimes this is simply a misunderstanding, and sometimes it’s a mistake on the attorney’s part. Clarity surrounding retainers and all fees is essential for avoiding conflict.
- Misrepresentation or dishonesty: Overstating a case or saying anything that might sound like a promise of a certain outcome to a client can land an attorney in trouble.
To avoid these kinds of complaints, be proactive: Regularly update your clients on your case strategy, make it easy for clients to communicate with you (and be responsive), always remember that the client needs to be involved in major decisions, and get all fee agreements in writing. Finally, avoid reflecting your client’s emotions about a case back at them, since that could make the client believe that they have a “sure thing.”
If you are the subject of a grievance by a client, taking immediate action can help you to achieve a favorable resolution and to better preserve your future opportunities.