Here is a topic for discussion that may not make me popular with other lawyers: how to file a complaint with The Florida Bar against a lawyer who has acted unethically. I am going to tell you when you should consider filing a complaint against your lawyer with The Florida Bar and the procedure for doing so.
The most common reason clients file complaints against lawyers in Florida is based on poor communication. The lawyer either fails to return telephone calls, respond to emails, or otherwise avoids the client. The lack of communication may be a sign of other problems. Poor attorney – client communication may signify that the lawyer has neglected the client’s case or matter. Occasionally, it signifies something far more sinister. The worst and most despicable lawyers have stolen money or property they have been entrusted to hold on their client’s behalf.
I cannot speak for other lawyers, but my personal policy has always been to return a client’s call by the end of the very next business day at the latest. Even when I am in trial, I review my messages at the end of the day and return calls. It has always seemed like the polite thing to do. Unfortunately, many lawyers are not so particular about returning telephone calls. If you have left 3 or more messages for your attorney and have not received a return call, then I would suggest that you should send a letter to the lawyer’s office and request an in-person meeting to discuss your concerns. Assuming you mail a letter and the lawyer does not respond, barring a serious illness or some other reasonable explanation from law firm staff, it may be time to bring the matter to the attention of The Florida Bar.
In the absence of a reasonable explanation as to why he or she has failed to promptly respond to your inquiries, the lawyer may be in violation of the ethical rules he or she must comply with as a licensed attorney and member of The Florida Bar. Those ethical rules require, among other things, that the lawyer openly communicate with you and keep you informed as to the status of your case, respond to your requests for information, work diligently on your matter, and be truthful and candid with you at all times.
If you have a concern about an ethical issue with your lawyer, The Florida Bar wants to hear from you. In order to discuss a perceived ethical violation or to open a complaint against a lawyer, you may call The Florida Bar at (866) 352-0707. The Florida Bar will speak with you and determine whether your concerns potentially rise to the level of an ethical violation on the part of the lawyer. You may be asked to provide a sworn affidavit as to the events which led to your contact with The Florida Bar. If your complaint has merit, The Florida Bar will initiate an investigation and will contact the attorney directly. The attorney will be given a short period of time to respond to the complaint and provide an explanation as to his or her conduct. Ultimately, if the attorney is found to be in violation of one or more of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, the lawyer will receive discipline. This discipline may range from a letter of advice or a public reprimand to suspension or even permanent disbarment, depending on the seriousness of the conduct at issue.
If your main concern is that your lawyer may have made a mistake in handling your case or acted negligently, you may also want to speak with an attorney who handles legal malpractice claims. The Florida Bar does not assist the public with civil claims for lawyer malpractice.