This is general information about standards for lawyer
conduct and how the Oregon State Bar (OSB) investigates inquiries
and complaints about lawyers.
All lawyers promise to uphold the law and to comply with rules of conduct adopted by the Oregon Supreme Court. Most lawyers are reputable and work hard to represent their clients enthusiastically and effectively. Lawyers who violate the rules of conduct are subject to discipline by the Oregon Supreme Court; in very serious cases this can mean a suspension or loss of the lawyer's license to practice.
The bar's Client Assistance Office reviews all inquiries and complaints about lawyer conduct. Complaints that present sufficient evidence of a violation are referred to Disciplinary Counsel's Office. If the inquiry or complaint does not involve misconduct, the Client Assistance Office may be able to provide some assistance or a referral to another resource. Bar resources include the Fee Arbitration Program, the Client Security Fund and the Professional Liability Fund. We may also refer you to public or community resources.
What can I do if I have a problem with my lawyer?
Many problems are the result of poor communication or differing expectations about how your case will be handled. We encourage clients to try to work out such problems directly with the lawyer if possible. You may need to schedule an appointment with your lawyer to talk about the problem; you might also wish to explain your position in a letter. Before you contact the lawyer, think about what you want to say and how you would like to have the problem resolved. Keep a record of when you talked to the lawyer about the problem; also keep copies of any letters you send or the lawyer sends you about the problem.
Can I fire my lawyer?
If you are still unhappy with your lawyer after you have talked about the problem, you may fire your lawyer and hire another one. Your lawyer may also choose to resign. If you fire your lawyer or your lawyer resigns, you are entitled to a copy of your file and any fees you paid in advance that weren't earned. Keep in mind, however, that if you owe your lawyer for fees or costs already incurred, the lawyer may be able to hold onto your file until the money is paid. The lawyer may also be able to charge you to copy your file. You should look to your fee agreement for more information.
How can the Oregon State Bar help me?
The OSB Client Assistance Office may be able to help you resolve a problem with your lawyer that you are unable to resolve on your own. For instance, we may be able to help you get your file, or resolve a communications problem between you and your lawyer. We can explain and provide some general information about the legal system, the lawyer-client relationship, and the ethical obligations of lawyers. We can also refer you to other agencies and resources that offer help we cannot provide. The Client Assistance Office cannot give you legal advice and we cannot force a lawyer to resolve a problem in any particular way. You can reach the Client Assistance Office at (503) 620-0222 in the Portland metro area, and at (800) 452-8260 from elsewhere in Oregon.
What should I do if I think a lawyer has acted improperly?
If you think an Oregon lawyer has violated a disciplinary rule,
you can file a written complaint with the Client Assistance Office.
We will screen your inquiry to determine if there is sufficient
basis to warrant further investigation. We may refer it to Disciplinary
Counsel's Office for further review. You can review the disciplinary
rules contained in the
Code of Professional
conduct occurring through Dec. 31, 2004, or the newer Oregon
Rules of Professional Conduct
for conduct occurring
from January 1, 2005 forward.
While the filing of a complaint against a lawyer is a serious matter that should not be undertaken lightly, you do not need to be an expert on the legal profession's ethical standards to submit your concerns to the state bar. We will determine whether the lawyer has engaged in misconduct warranting disciplinary action. If not, we will try to provide some assistance for you to address the problem in some other way. If you are not sure whether your concerns involve ethical misconduct, you can call the Client Assistance Office to discuss the matter.
If you want to file a complaint, you must put your concerns in
writing. No particular form is required, although we offer a sample OSB
Lawyer Complaint Form
on our website. Please print if you handwrite
a complaint. Include copies of any documents that are relevant to your complaint
if you have them. Do not send originals unless we specifically ask; we will
not return documents to you. Please note that all documents received by the
bar are considered public records. Please only use one side of each page.
What if I think my lawyer stole my money?
The OSB Client Security Fund may reimburse a client whose lawyer
has misappropriated or stolen money or other property. The theft
must have happened during the course of a lawyer-client relationship
or while the lawyer was acting as a fiduciary in connection with
the practice of law. Information about the Client Security Fund
and forms in order to apply for reimbursement are available online
or by contacting the office of OSB General Counsel at (503) 620-0222,
ext. 334 or (800) 452-8624, ext. 334 (toll-free within Oregon).
What if I think my lawyers fees are unreasonable?
Sometimes a lawyer's fees violate the rules of professional conduct. In these cases, the lawyer may be disciplined. More often, however, clients believe their lawyers' fees are not reasonable because they lost their case or because they feel their lawyers did a poor job representing them. In these cases, clients want their lawyers' fees to be reduced. The Fee Arbitration Program (FAP) offers a way for Oregon lawyers and their clients to voluntarily resolve these kinds of disputes over fees. Independent, voluntary arbitrators are used to help resolve lawyer fee disputes. The person who requests arbitration must pay a modest fee. The decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties, subject to only limited court review. If you would like more information on the FAP, or would like the help of the FAP in resolving a fee dispute, please call (503) 620-0222, ext. 399 to request forms. Please be sure to include the name and location of the lawyer involved in the dispute.
What if I think my lawyer committed malpractice?
Lawyers sometimes make mistakes. If the mistake causes a loss,
you may be able to recover through a malpractice suit. Legal
malpractice is the failure of a lawyer to represent a client
in a way that conforms with the legal standard of care in the
community. Note that not every bad result or error in judgment
is legal malpractice. If you think your lawyer might have been
negligent in representing you, you should contact a lawyer who
handles professional malpractice cases. All Oregon lawyers with
principal offices for the private practice of law in Oregon have
liability coverage in the event of a malpractice claim. The OSB
Referral and Information Service may be able to give you names
of lawyers in your community who handle such cases. Call (503)
684-3763 or (800) 452-7636 (within Oregon). You may also submit
your claim directly to the Professional Liability Fund. Additional
information is available from the OSB Professional Liability
Fund at (503) 639-6911 or (800) 452-1639 (within Oregon).
How can I find out if my lawyer has had problems in the past?
OSB records concerning lawyers are public. The Oregon State Bar
can provide general information over the telephone about a lawyer’s
disciplinary history and about other inquiries concerning a lawyer.
Written records are available for public inspection by appointment.
Contact Disciplinary Counsel’s records clerk at (503) 620-0222,
ext. 394 or (800) 452-8260, ext. 394 (within Oregon).
history for individual bar members also is available through the online member directory
Ethics Complaints and Lawyer Discipline
All inquiries and complaints about lawyer conduct are reviewed
first by the Client Assistance Office to determine if there is
sufficient basis to warrant further investigation by the bar.
Staff in that office may call you or the lawyer for additional
information. A copy of your written complaint will be sent to
the lawyer and you will receive a copy of any written response
the lawyer makes.
If there is no sufficient basis to warrant further investigation your complaint will be dismissed and you will be notified. (Even with a dismissed complaint, the Client Assistance Office may be able to help you in addressing your concerns.)
If the CAO finds that there is sufficient basis to warrant further investigation your complaint will be referred to Disciplinary Counsel's Office.
Investigation by Disciplinary Counsel’s Office
Disciplinary Counsel's Office investigates all complaints referred by the Client Assistance Office. You and the lawyer may be asked to submit additional information or to respond to specific questions. Personal or telephone interviews may be conducted and staff may gather information from other sources. You should not expect your complaint to be decided solely on the basis of what you claim happened. (Nor should the lawyer expect that a matter will be decided based solely on the lawyer's version.) The final decision must depend upon the weight of all the available evidence.
If Disciplinary Counsel's Office does not find sufficient evidence, the complaint will be dismissed and you will be notified. You may ask for review of the dismissal decision.
If Disciplinary Counsel's Office finds sufficient evidence, the complaint is submitted to the State Professional Responsibility Board for review. The SPRB is composed of seven lawyers and two nonlawyer ("public") members. The SPRB can dismiss the complaint, send the lawyer to a diversion program, admonish the lawyer, or authorize formal charges against the lawyer. The SPRB can also refer the complaint to a Local Professional Responsibility Committee for further investigation.
Formal Charges and Hearing
If the SPRB finds that probable cause exists to believe that a disciplinary rule violation has occurred, formal charges may be filed against the lawyer by the bar. The lawyer is notified and required to answer the charges. A trial panel is appointed to act as judge. Each trial panel includes two lawyers and one nonlawyer ("public") member; all of them are trained volunteers.
A formal hearing, much like a court trial, will be held. Evidence in the form of testimony or documents is presented to support the bar's charges. The accused lawyer is given the opportunity to defend the charges and confront witnesses. As in a trial, witnesses testify under oath and a record is made of the proceedings. In most cases, the person making the complaint will be called to testify at the hearing. The trial panel issues a written decision, including findings of fact, conclusions and a disposition regarding the charges.
Review by Oregon Supreme Court
If the trial panel dismisses the charges, or imposes a public reprimand or a suspension of six months or less, the trial panel's decision is final unless either the bar or the accused lawyer seeks review by the Oregon Supreme Court. If the trial panel recommends disbarment or a suspension for more than six months, the case is automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court. The court has final authority concerning disciplinary cases submitted to it; the court's final action may be a dismissal, a reprimand, a suspension or permanent disbarment.
How Long Does it Take?
The Client Assistance Office tries to perform its initial screening quickly and efficiently. Disciplinary Counsel's Office also handles investigations and charges as quickly as possible. It is impossible to predict how long it will take to handle any particular complaint. Much depends on the nature of the complaint and whether or not the facts are disputed. You will be kept informed of the outcome of your inquiry or complaint.
Some Things You Should Not Expect
Reimbursement for Damages or Loss. You should not expect, as a result of an inquiry or complaint about a lawyer, that you will receive any money or reimbursement of loss except as may be available in a claim to the Client Security Fund or through the lawyer's malpractice coverage or other civil claim. Keep in mind that those claims are not part of the investigation of lawyer conduct but are separate and distinct matters.
Legal Advice. We cannot give you legal advice or represent you in your underlying legal matter. Other than through the bar's Referral and Information Service, we cannot recommend a lawyer for you.
Out of State Lawyers. The Oregon State Bar has authority only
over the conduct of OSB members or lawyers who have been granted special admission
for a limited purpose. If you have a complaint against a lawyer licensed in
another state, contact the lawyer regulatory agency in that state for information
on making a complaint. Contact information for most jurisdictions is available
online. We maintain records of all lawyers licensed in Oregon; you may search
our member directory to confirm whether a lawyer is admitted to
practice in Oregon. If you are not sure which state has authority to address
the complaint, you may contact the Client Assistance Office for information.
Non-lawyers. Only lawyers may practice law, including selecting
and drafting legal documents; appearing for another person in court; or providing
legal advice or services to another person on any matter involving the application
of legal principles to a specific situation. The Oregon State Bar’s Unlawful
Practice of Law Committee is authorized to investigate complaints that a nonlawyer
is practicing law, and may seek restitution for victims in a proceeding to
stop the unlawful practice. If you wish to make a complaint about nonlawyer
practice, contact OSB General Counsel’s office at (503) 620-0222, ext.
334 or (800) 452-8624, ext. 334 (within Oregon) for information about how to
present your complaint.
Rude and Unprofessional Behavior. The Oregon State Bar does not have
authority to discipline lawyers who are rude or discourteous. Poor customer
service is generally not an ethical violation. If your lawyer’s rude
or unprofessional behavior is affecting your lawyer-client relationship, the
Client Assistance Office may be able to help.
Personal Matters. The bar generally does not
investigate matters that arise in a lawyer’s personal
life, such as disputes with neighbors, creditors or spouses.
If you are unsure whether the lawyer’s personal conduct
involves professional misconduct, you may contact the Client
Judges. The bar does not generally have authority
to investigate the conduct of judges for acts in the course
of their judicial duties. Complaints about a judge may be sent
to the Commission on Judicial Fitness & Disability, P.O.
Box 1130, Beaverton, OR 97075.
Edited September 2011