TThe Washington Supreme Court has exclusive responsibility for lawyer discipline. Under delegated authority, the WSBA Office of Disciplin- ary Counsel (ODC) receives, reviews, and investigates complaints (griev- ances) against lawyers. The Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct (ELC) are the procedural rules for the lawyer discipline system. The ethical rules about lawyer conduct are the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC). This ar- ticle provides an overview of Washing- ton’s lawyer discipline system and answers commonly asked questions about
policies and procedures. 1
ODC’s consumer affairs coordinators
handle calls and email about public
discipline against lawyers, pending
discipline, and potential grievances.
They resolve some client complaints
informally, usually involving non-communication issues, file disputes, and fee
ODC receives and opens files on
more than 2,000 grievances against
Washington lawyers each year. There
is no time limit for filing a grievance,
although timeliness may be consid-
ered by disciplinary counsel when
evaluating a grievance. 3 There is no
filing fee. Grievances need not be sub-
mitted on ODC’s grievance form, but
the grievance form captures impor-
tant information and includes an affir-
mation that the information submitted
is true and accurate. Grievance forms
can be downloaded from www.wsba.
org, or submitted electronically with
attachments through www.wsba.org.
Under the ELC, there is no requirement of “standing.” Anyone can file a
grievance against any lawyer. Clients,
former clients, and opposing parties
frequently file grievances. Grievances
can be opened in ODC’s name, often
based on information about lawyer
conduct in the media or in court opinions. ODC grievances can be based on
allegations from an anonymous or confidential source. 4
Although grievants raise a variety
What Happens to a Grievance?
of issues, many grievances allege lack
of diligence, competence, or commu-
nication. Many grievances involve
the practice areas of family law and
Every grievance file has a file number,
relates to a single lawyer, and is separate from every other grievance file.
ODC scans information received from
the grievant and respondent in the
grievance process and generally destroys the physical records.
Disciplinary counsel can dismiss
a grievance without requiring a lawyer’s response, and the first notification that a lawyer may receive about
a grievance is a copy of the dismissal
letter with a copy of the grievance.
Whether or not disciplinary counsel
dismisses the grievance, the grievant
and lawyer ordinarily receive notice
of a file number and initial action
within two weeks of filing.
After reviewing a grievance, disciplinary counsel can request a lawyer’s
written preliminary response. The letter notifies the lawyer that he or she
must respond to the grievance and
How Does the Lawyer
Discipline System Work?
COMPLAINTS AGAINST LAWYERS
by Felice P. Congalton