Many lawyers, regardless of the nature of their practice, their practice area, or the care with which they practice, will become the subject of a grievance alleging professional misconduct at some point during their career. Grievances are, of course, most often filed by discontent clients. Yet, they may also be initiated by fellow lawyers, judges and other members of the public. Given the inevitability of grievances and the career-threatening angst they bring about, it is helpful to periodically review what lawyers should do if they receive a letter of inquiry from a bar grievance committee or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
- Carefully review the grievance and the rules of conduct. Consider whether there is any truth to the allegations. Consider whether the facts support any rule violation.
- Read the relevant Supreme Court rules setting forth the procedure for grievance review and the process for adjudication of formal lawyer discipline cases. For those who do not routinely work in the lawyer discipline area, the process can seem very complex, so think about seeking help from someone familiar with the process.
- Communicate with the investigating lawyer. The letter of inquiry will tell you to whom you must respond. Do not be afraid to telephone that person with questions about the process, including procedural steps.
- If you find it difficult to be objective or it is apparent that the allegations have some merit, consider whether it is prudent to represent yourself. Keep in mind the old adage about a lawyer who represents himself or herself.
- Only proceed without ethics counsel if you can remain objective and it is clear the grievance is unfounded. You should not wait until authorities decide to file formal charges against you before you hire counsel. In the early investigative stage, ethics counsel helps you avoid formal charges. In contrast, once formal charges are filed, ethics counsel’s job is to help you keep your license to practice, or regain it as soon as possible.
- Respond on time and do not ignore the grievance. Failure to assist in the investigation is a disciplinary violation itself. Many lawyers get themselves in trouble by failing to respond to grievances that have no merit and which would undoubtedly be dismissed, if a proper response were submitted. If you find that you feel paralyzed and cannot respond, consider speaking with a mental health professional and contacting the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. Remember, it is not sensible to ignore a situation that can place your career in jeopardy.
- Keep your response focused and to the point. Those experienced in the process know that you must focus on the substance of the complaint and resist the temptation to attack the complainant. If the facts are in dispute, tell your side of the story, but provide documents to prove your version is accurate. If you decide against counsel, have a law partner, mentor, or trusted colleague review your response for its tone and clarity.