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Investigation & Informal Resolution

Disciplinary Counsel Investigation of Complaints against AttorneysDisciplinary Counsel's Initial Investigation

Although Disciplinary Counsel may initiate the grievance process based on information from other sources, most complaints against attorneys are filed by disgruntled clients. Whether expressed in a letter or on a form supplied by the Board on Professional Responsibility, each complaint goes directly to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for investigation.

Charged with the duty to investigate any allegation that an attorney has committed professional misconduct or is incapacitated and unable to competently practice law, the Board's Executive Secretary appoints a member of its Hearing Committee to oversee each investigation. This "Contact Member" has the power and duty to review and approve or suggest modifications of recommendations by Disciplinary Counsel for dismissals, informal admonitions, the institution of formal charges, and the deferral or abatement of disciplinary investigations pending the outcome of related criminal or civil litigation.

Most investigations start with a letter to the attorney. This letter, which all attorneys open with trepidation, identifies the complainant, states the general nature of the infraction under investigation, and seeks the attorney's response to the complaint, which is typically enclosed. In some instances, Disciplinary Counsel will specify the information and records most pertinent to the investigation and give the attorney a very limited amount of time to provide it.

These inquiries help Disciplinary Counsel to screen out unwarranted grievances and to identify those meriting further action. Since Disciplinary Counsel must determine whether further investigation is warranted, the manner in which an attorney responds to her initial inquiry may be the most critical step in the entire process. Beyond the ethical obligation to cooperate fully in disciplinary investigations, evasive or argumentative approaches only serve to invite greater scrutiny -- and, in some cases, harsher sanctions.

Post-Investigation Procedure

With the approval of the Contact Member, Disciplinary Counsel may:

1. Dismiss the complaint;

2. Issue an Informal Admonition to the attorney - though this is the "lightest" of available sanctions, this admonition is a matter of public record. The rules do not provide for a "private" admonition or reprimand. Lawyers may decline an informal admonition by requesting formal hearings before a Hearing Committee. In that case, the admonition will be vacated and Disciplinary Counsel will institute formal charges;

3. Defer the investigation pending the outcome of related criminal or civil litigation; or

4. Proceed with Formal Charges against the attorney to pursue more serious sanctions. See List of Sanctions & Dismissals.

With the approval of a member of the Board on Professional Responsibility, Disciplinary Counsel may pursue alternatives to discipline in the form of a diversion agreement, or may negotiate any appropriate sanction with the responding attorney.

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.