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The Lawyer's Lawyer

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Avoid the Perils of Professional Discipline

Buying Out of a Grievance

Q. My client has threatened me with a lawsuit and an ethics complaint unless I refund her legal fees. Should I pay her to release these claims?

A. Although a refund may reduce the chances of a lawsuit or grievance, you must be very careful about negotiating a "settlement" with your disgruntled client.

Under Rule 1.8(h), you may not settle a potential malpractice claim unless this client is advised in writing to seek independent counsel and is given a reasonable opportunity to do so. Even then, you probably can't do anything to deter the client from filing a grievance against you.

Few states have adopted rules which explicitly preclude the release of potential ethics complaints. But all states recognize the importance of maintaining the integrity of the profession through the reporting of unethical conduct. In attempting to eliminate such complaints, you will "engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice" in violation of Rule 8.4(d). Not only is such an agreement unenforceable, it is universally regarded as unethical and may itself be a basis for sanctions.

Although you can enter into agreements which may absolve you of malpractice liability, you should never attempt to negotiate with your client directly. Without using a lawyer of your own, you expose yourself to future claims that you misled the client into an unwise settlement or acted improperly in the course of negotiations. Since the client has already threatened to sue you or to report you to the bar, the less direct contact you have with this person, the better.

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Attorney Grievance defense attorney specializes in defending lawyers in disciplinary proceedings before the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission and the D.C. Bar's Board on Professional Responsibility involving professional misconduct, legal ethics, disbarment, suspensions of law licenses, petitions for disciplinary action, reprimands and sanctions for unethical conduct. If you receive a letter from Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless, Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox, or from any attorney disciplinary board in Maryland or the District of Columbia, retain experienced attorneys with expertise in lawyer discipline and breach of ethics cases to avoid sanctions for professional misconduct. We help lawyers avoid disbarment, suspension, reprimands, censure and informal admonitions by drafting responses to client grievances and ethical complaints; representing lawyers in peer reviews, evidentiary hearings, and oral arguments before the BPR and the Court of Appeals; filing petitions to reinstate an attorney's license to practice law; conducting law firm ethical compliance audits; and drafting legal ethics opinions to protect lawyers from ethics charges. In many cases, disciplinary proceedings may be dismissed, dismissed with a warning, or result in a conditional diversion agreement with Bar Counsel to rectify misconduct. Lawyers may need help in managing their law firm attorney escrow IOLTA trust account and complying with attorney trust accounting rules to avoid charges of ethical misconduct. Do not represent yourself in responding to an attorney grievance, law firm client complaint, or other allegation of ethical impropriety. Attorney grievance defense counsel may help you comply with legal ethics rules, avoid sanctions like suspension or disbarment, and avoid future attorney grievances.


By The Lawyer's Lawyers | Kramer & Connolly and Irwin R. Kramer who are responsible for the content of this informational website.   This website is designed for lawyers faced with attorney grievances. As cases do differ, past performance does not guarantee future results.