Bar Complaints

Miami Attorney Defending Florida Attorneys Against Bar Complaints

Bar ComplaintsThe filing of a bar complaint or formal grievance can put a tremendous amount of stress on a lawyer and their law firm — it could even put their career and professional reputation at risk. Every bar complaint must be taken seriously. It is imperative that attorneys are able to effectively defend themselves.

What Constitutes a Complaint Against a Lawyer?

Complaints against lawyers can range from breaching ethics to being incompetent. Some examples of Florida Bar complaints that could result in disciplinary action include:

  • A violation of client/lawyer confidentiality
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Taking “frivolous” cases
  • Poor communication
  • Withholding documents from the client
  • Being ineffective, either because of a lack of knowledge or skill
  • Withholding money from a client or taking money from them without rendering promised services
  • Failure to comply with trust accounting rules
  • Commission of a crime (in particular a felony)
  • Theft of client funds
  • Improper transactions with clients (for example, naming the lawyer as a beneficiary in a client’s will)
  • Unprofessional conduct with opposing counsel and disrespect to the judiciary.
Understanding the Florida Bar Complaint/Grievance Process

In Florida, the complaint/grievance process has several stages, including:

The Stages of the Grievance Process
  1. Screening By ACAP: When a lawyer receives notification from the Florida Bar that a complaint has been filed, they will have 15 days to submit a response. The complaint and the response will be reviewed by the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP). Florida’s ACAP can dismiss the complaint or determine that additional investigation is warranted.

  2. Referral to Disciplinary Counsel: If further investigation is deemed to be necessary, ACAP will refer the complaint to disciplinary counsel — most likely a local grievance committee. At this point, there will be further investigation, an evidentiary hearing, and, potentially, summary arguments. The grievance committee must determine whether or not there is probable cause to move forward.

  3. Formal Complaint with the Florida Supreme Court: If there is a finding of probable cause, a formal complaint will typically be filed with the Florida Supreme Court. After a formal complaint is filed, an attorney will only have 20 days to submit an answer. The Florida Supreme Court will then assign a case to a county court judge or circuit court judge to preside as a referee.

Lately, there has been a strong push from lawyers, judges, Florida Bar leaders, and the Florida Supreme Court to take a more aggressive stance against professionalism-related complaints.

  1. Supreme Court Reviews Referee’s Report or Consent Judgments: After the referee’s report is filed with the Supreme Court, it is reviewed by the designated reviewer, the Disciplinary Review Committee, and the Board of Governors. The BOG and the accused lawyer each have 60 days to appeal the referee’s decision.
Why Early Legal Representation Matters

You should never discount the seriousness of a Florida Bar grievance, nor assume that a complaint will be dismissed merely because you are convinced it lacks substantial merit.

Statements made in the initial written exchanges can ultimately affect the outcome. That is why the best time to hire a Florida Bar defense attorney to defend the grievance is at the start. An experienced bar defense counsel can see the traps to avoid in submitting the response.

Confidentiality of Case Files

Case files become public when a case is closed at the staff or grievance committee level, or when probable cause is found. Closed cases remain public for one year after the case is concluded and then are disposed of in accordance with The Florida Bar’s record retention policy. Read Rule 3-7.1 (a) for details about when a case is no longer Confidential.

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