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California Bar investigates claims of unethical legal service

People who experienced a legal reversal because their attorney failed to live up to their duties have the right to seek compensation from the lawyer in civil court. But even if a negligent attorney loses a legal malpractice suit, he or she might continue to practice law. More clients could be harmed by the lawyer’s incompetence or dishonesty.

Besides recovering damages, victims of legal malpractice in California also have the option of filing a complaint against the offending attorney. The State Bar Association investigates complaints and has the power to discipline its members. Punishments can range from a warning or probation to suspension or disbarment. Being disbarred means the attorney would be prohibited from practicing law in California.

The State Bar’s website emphasizes that clients should file a complaint if they believe their attorney acted unethically. Disagreements about strategy or a belief that he or she did a poor job are not enough to launch an investigation.

People who wish to file a complaint against an attorney can find the form at the State Bar’s website. It is free to file, and you need not be a U.S. citizen. Besides the complaint form, you should supply photocopies of any paperwork that supports your claim.

The complaint is first read by an attorney with the State Bar, who decides whether to proceed with investigation. This takes two to three weeks. If the attorney decides to go ahead, the complaint gets assigned to a staff member who begins to investigate.

Once the investigation is complete, the State Bar sends you a letter informing you if it will prosecute the accused attorney.

Whatever the outcome, it may provide legal malpractice victims some peace of mind to alert the California Bar to their lawyers’ activities.