How to file a complaint against a lawyer

Filing a complaint against an attorney is a serious step that should be taken when you feel that your legal representation has not lived up to your expectations. Whether it’s due to professional misconduct, unethical behavior, negligence or selling out, it’s important to know the steps you can take to address your concerns.

This article will walk you through the process of filing a complaint against an attorney.

1. Understand the reasons for the complaint

Before proceeding with a complaint make sure you have valid reasons. Common reasons for filing a complaint include:

Ethical violations

  • Such as conflicts of interest, dishonesty or breach of client confidentiality.

Incompetence or negligence

  • When an attorney’s actions fall below acceptable standards, leading to negative outcomes for your case.

Misappropriation of funds

  • If your lawyer mishandles your funds, you have the right to file a complaint.

2. Attempt to resolve the problem

Before filing a formal complaint, consider discussing your concerns with your attorney. They may not be aware of your dissatisfaction and may be willing to address the issues. Communication is often the path to the solution.

3. Contact your state bar association

If your concerns are not resolved through communication, contact your state’s bar association or the list of lawyer disciplinary agencies prepared by the American Bar Association. They regulate the conduct of lawyers and handle complaints. Look up the contact information for your state’s bar association and contact their ethics or grievance committee.

4. Collect evidence

When filing a complaint, provide as much evidence as possible to support your claims. This may include emails, documents, meeting recordings, or any other relevant information that demonstrates the attorney’s wrongdoing.

5. Fill out the complaint form

Most state bar associations have a specific complaint form that you will need to fill out. This form will ask for details about the attorney, your case, and the specific issues you are raising. Make your descriptions as detailed and clear as possible.

6. Submit your complaint

Once you have filled out the complaint form and gathered all the necessary documents, send them to the State Bar Association. Be sure to keep copies of everything you submit for your records.

7. Investigation process

The bar association will review your complaint and determine whether it merits an investigation. This process may take some time, as they will need to gather information from both you and the lawyer in question.

8. Resolution

After the investigation, the bar association will decide whether disciplinary action is necessary. This can range from a warning to suspension or disbarment, depending on the severity of the attorney’s misconduct.

9. Legal recourse

If you are unhappy with the outcome of the Bar Association’s investigation, you may be able to take legal action against the lawyer in civil court. Consulting with another attorney about your potential legal options can be helpful.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Q: How long does the complaints process take?

The duration varies depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the bar association. Some cases can be resolved within a few months, while others may take longer.

Q: Can I file a complaint about any type of misconduct?

Yes, you can file a complaint about various issues such as unethical behavior, conflict of interest, inadequate representation and more. The bar association will evaluate the merits of your complaint.

Q: What if I cannot afford legal representation during this process?

Many bar associations offer resources for low-income people who need legal assistance. You can learn about these resources when filing your complaint.

Q: Will my complaint remain confidential?

Although bar associations prioritize confidentiality, you may need to share some information with the attorney you are filing a complaint against for investigative purposes.

Q: Can I take legal action separately?

Filing a complaint with the bar association is a separate process from pursuing a legal malpractice lawsuit. You may want to consider consulting with another attorney to explore your legal options.

Q: Is there a possibility of retaliation?

Retaliation against a complainant is considered unethical and could lead to more serious consequences for the lawyer. If you experience retaliation, report it to the bar association.


Filing a complaint against a lawyer is an important step in upholding the integrity of the legal profession and ensuring that clients receive adequate representation. By following these steps and being thorough in your documentation, you can effectively address any issues you have with an attorney’s conduct or performance.

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