As an expert in the legal field, I have encountered numerous cases of lawyer misconduct and have been asked countless times about the proper way to report such behavior. In New York, the authority over the conduct of attorneys is vested in the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court and the disciplinary and grievance committees appointed by that court. These committees are comprised of both attorneys and non-attorneys, and work with a full-time professional staff funded by the state. If you believe that an attorney may have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, there are two ways to report it. You can either write a letter to the appropriate Lawyer Complaints Committee or complete and submit a form available on their websites.
Complaints must be made in writing, and if the complaint describes conduct that would be considered inappropriate, if proven, the attorney against whom the complaint is filed must respond to the complaint in writing. The committees are responsible for investigating all complaints they receive. In some cases, they may refer the complaint to a county bar association for resolution. If the committee determines, after their investigation, that the lawyer's conduct was improper, they may send him a letter of warning, reprimand or reprimand. These letters are not made public but are kept as part of the lawyer's file.
The complainant is informed if any action is taken. In cases of serious misconduct, the committee may refer the matter to the courts for action. If the court decides to take disciplinary action against that lawyer after a hearing before a disciplinary panel or an arbitrator, the decision is usually made public. Complaints of misconduct against attorneys must be filed with the attorney complaints committee in the county where the lawyer is practicing. The addresses and telephone numbers of those offices can be found on their respective websites. It is important to note that the decision to report another lawyer's misconduct should not be taken lightly and must be based on a reasonable basis. As an attorney for the New York State Claims Committee for the Tenth Judicial District, I once received an anonymous letter from an attorney reporting the disturbing conduct of another attorney.
Each of the three lawyer complaint committees of the Second Judicial Department is comprised of 21 members, at least three of whom are not lawyers. The fund is a resource for law clients who cannot obtain a refund from the attorney who caused the loss, from insurance, or from other sources. It is important to note that attorneys who contemplate threatening to file a complaint of misconduct based on suspicion or belief should be careful not to use the disciplinary process for nefarious purposes or out of spite without a reasonable basis. Doing so could, in and of itself, violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys are admitted to practice by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court and are subject to the oversight of that court throughout their careers. This means that lawyers must ensure that all elements of Rule 8.3 are met and that they are acting in good faith before deciding if a report is necessary. Even if you have personal and first-hand knowledge of the misconduct, there are certain situations where you are not required to report it.
For example, if the complaint requires you to disclose a client's confidential information under Rule 1.6, whether the offending attorney or other client does not want to consent to the disclosure, or if the information was obtained through your participation in an accredited legal aid program. Depending on the nature of the misconduct and the stage of the litigation, the Court may order the complaining attorney to immediately notify the appropriate Complaints Committee instead of interrupting or diverting pending action. The lawyer has a professional obligation to comply with that request, and the failure to submit a response may, in and of itself, constitute professional misconduct. If you are unsure of how to proceed or need guidance, you can contact your county Bar Association's Bar Referral Service. If there isn't a Lawyer Referral Service in your county, you can call the New York State Bar Bar Referral and Information Service at 1-800-342-3661 from anywhere in New York State. In conclusion, the decision to report another lawyer's misconduct is not one to be taken lightly. It is important to follow the proper procedures and ensure that all elements of Rule 8.3 are met before making a report.
Remember, the rule requires lawyers to report serious acts of misconduct, not minor acts or violations of the rules that do not imply the integrity or skill of the lawyer. If you have lost money or property due to the dishonest conduct of an attorney while practicing law, you can file a complaint with the appropriate complaints committee as well as with the New York State Client Protection Lawyers Fund. In most cases, clients can resolve these complaints on their own by talking to the lawyer and explaining the problem or, if necessary, firing the lawyer and hiring another. In non-litigious matters, it is important to report the misconduct to the appropriate disciplinary authorities, which in New York is usually to the Complaints Committee or to the Appeals Division of the jurisdiction in which the alleged misconduct occurred or in which the offending lawyer practices or is admitted.