This blog has discussed many ways to find a lawyer, from how to decide whether or not you really need a lawyer to evaluating a prospective lawyer by using online resources and checking disciplinary records. In between, we covered ways to find free legal help here and here; lawyer referral services here, here, and here; using lawyers for limited services; even finding legal help during a natural disaster.
After using all these resources – or after getting a recommendation from a friend - you’ve found a lawyer to take your case. So far, so good. But what happens if your lawyer charges a higher fee than you think is warranted, or didn’t do all the work you expected?
Just as bar associations and state agencies can help you find a lawyer, they can help to resolve disputes with your lawyer too. The process is generally called “filing a grievance” and it can be done online in many places.
For serious complaints about your lawyer’s performance, most states have a disciplinary procedure, and in most states it is handled by the highest court in that state. For example, in Pennsylvania it’s the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. If you were looking for an attorney and wanted to check his or her disciplinary records, you might have already been to this website. Since this Board handles attorney discipline, you would also go to this website to file a complaint; it even has handy instructions and a complaint form.
Simple disagreement about the amount of a lawyer’s fee are more often handled by the local bar association. Still in Pennsylvania, many county bar associations have a committee to mediate fee disputes, such as those in Dauphin, Lycoming, and Philadelphia Counties. Since more serious ethical and conduct complaints are handled by the state Disciplinary Board, many bar associations’ fee dispute page will direct you to the Disciplinary Board for those issues; see examples from Erie and Montgomery Counties.
Although Pennsylvania’s system is typical, it is by no means universal. In New York, grievances about conduct are handled by regional committees based in Departments of the Appellate Division (New York’s second-highest court), while fee disputes are handled by local offices in each judicial district that are part of the Statewide Fee Dispute Resolution Program.
Texas has a statewide grievance program for conduct issues, handled by the State Bar. Fee disputes are handled by local bar associations or dispute resolution centers; the State Bar has a directory of those agencies, as well as helpful suggestions for resolving your dispute. The Texas State Bar also has a Client-Attorney Assistance Program to help you determine the proper course of action, and even a set of instructions to follow if your lawyer dies, disappears, or becomes disabled.
These are just some of the ways to complain about your lawyer that can be found in CourtReference’s “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” category of online resources. They are in that category – along with disciplinary records and all things lawyer-related – so all your questions about lawyers in your state are in one place.