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A Client Filed a Complaint Against Me. What Should I Do?

Posted by Joe Barnard, CPA on Mar 21, 2018 12:05:00 PM
Joe Barnard, CPA
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Lawyers can expect to face at least one professional complaint during their careers. When it happens to you, keep your cool. The fact is that vast majority of professional complaints are dismissed. 

This doesn’t mean that you should take a complaint lightly, and doing so can be disastrous. When you receive notice that a client has filed a complaint with your bar association or disciplinary board, take these steps.


Don’t panic, but take it seriously.

First, take a deep breath. A complaint doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done anything wrong, but it’s important to assess the situation with a clear head.


Read and understand the complaint.

After you’ve overcome the initial shock, anger, and fear, read the complaint thoroughly, trying to see the situation from your client’s point of view. Although your natural response will be to defend your actions, do your best to understand why the client is complaining and what they would have liked you to do differently. The better you understand your client’s complaint, the more complete and responsive you can make your answer.


Notify your malpractice insurer.

Once you’ve taken the time to read and fully understand the complaint filed against you, contact your malpractice insurer. This is critical in case the complaint eventually becomes a lawsuit. Failure to notify your insurer as soon as you know you could be sued can result in denial of coverage.

Additionally, some malpractice insurers, including ProDefender, provide professional help with responding to complaints as a benefit. If you’re not sure whether your policy provides this benefit, check your policy document or speak with your agent. The help of an attorney who specializes in professional liability law can be invaluable in preparing your answer and may help you avoid a formal investigation.


Be honest.

You must be entirely truthful in your answer to a professional complaint. If you’re not, you’ll be guilty of an ethical offense and could end up facing much more severe penalties than those associated with the initial complaint. After considering your response, the disciplinary board will decide whether sufficient evidence exists to commence a formal investigation. If so, you will likely be asked to provide additional documentation and/or testimony.


Possible Consequences of Professional Complaints

If your disciplinary body finds that you have committed a violation, a range of consequences is possible, depending on the severity of the offense. Sanctions can include probation, private or public reprimand, suspension, or disbarment. Suspension and disbarment are reserved for more serious violations, and the length of suspension or possibility of reinstatement after disbarment depends on the disciplinary body and the seriousness of the offense committed. 

Although the vast majority of professional complaints are dismissed without any attorney sanctions, it’s important for lawyers to always remain vigilant in defending their practices. This means responding to complaints, however trivial or baseless they may seem, thoroughly and with complete honesty. It also means making sure to have professional liability insurance in place that not only protects against losses from lawsuits but also provides help with professional complaints. Your insurer’s malpractice attorneys may be able to help you avoid the time and hassle of a formal investigation as well as potentially serious sanctions.


If you’d like more information about ProDefender attorney malpractice insurance, including protection from professional complaints, reach out to us at (866) 434-8557 or, or click the link below to request a quote.

 Lawyers Professional Liability

Topics: Lawyers Professional Liability, Risk Management


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