How to File a Complaint Against an Attorney: A Comprehensive Guide

Filing a complaint against an attorney is a serious step that should be taken when you believe your legal representation has fallen short of expectations. Whether it’s due to professional misconduct, unethical behavior, negligence, or selling you out, it’s important to know the steps to take to address your concerns.

This article will guide you through the process of filing a complaint against a lawyer.

1. Understand the Grounds for the Complaint

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

Ethical Violations

  • Such as conflicts of interest, dishonesty, or breaching 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 attorney mishandles your funds, you have the right to file a complaint.

2. Attempt to Resolve the Issue

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

3. Contact the State Bar Association

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

4. Gather Evidence

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

5. Complete the Complaint Form

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

6. Submit the Complaint

Once you’ve filled out the complaint form and gathered all the necessary documents, submit them to the State Bar Association. Ensure that you keep copies of everything you submit for your records.

7. Investigation Process

The bar association will review your complaint and determine whether it warrants an investigation. This process may take some time, as they will need to gather information from both you and the attorney 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’re unsatisfied with the outcome of the bar association’s investigation, you may have the option to pursue legal action against the attorney in civil court. Consulting with another attorney about your potential legal options can be helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: How long does the complaint 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 for any type of misconduct?

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

Q: What if I can’t afford legal representation during this process?

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

Q: Will my complaint remain confidential?

While bar associations prioritize confidentiality, some information may need to be shared 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 consider consulting another attorney to explore your legal options.

Q: Is there a chance of retaliation?

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


Filing a complaint against an attorney is an important step in upholding the integrity of the legal profession and ensuring that clients receive proper 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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