This is general information about standards for lawyer
conduct and how the Oregon State Bar (OSB) investigates inquiries
and complaints about lawyers.
All lawyers promise to uphold the law and to comply with rules of conduct adopted by the Oregon Supreme Court. Most lawyers are reputable and work hard to represent their clients enthusiastically and effectively. Lawyers who violate the rules of conduct are subject to discipline by the Oregon Supreme Court; in very serious cases this can mean a suspension or loss of the lawyer's license to practice.
The bar's Client Assistance Office reviews all inquiries and complaints about lawyer conduct. Complaints that present sufficient evidence of a violation are referred to Disciplinary Counsel's Office. If the inquiry or complaint does not involve misconduct, the Client Assistance Office may be able to provide some assistance or a referral to another resource. Bar resources include the Fee Arbitration/Mediation Program, the Client Security Fund and the Professional Liability Fund. We may also refer you to public or community resources.
What can I do if I have a problem with my lawyer?
Many problems are the result of poor communication or differing expectations about how your case will be handled. We encourage clients to try to work out such problems directly with the lawyer if possible. You may need to schedule an appointment with your lawyer to talk about the problem; you might also wish to explain your position in a letter. Before you contact the lawyer, think about what you want to say and how you would like to have the problem resolved. Keep a record of when you talked to the lawyer about the problem; also keep copies of any letters you send or the lawyer sends you about the problem.
Can I fire my lawyer?
If you are still unhappy with your lawyer after you have talked about the problem, you can fire your lawyer and hire another one. Your lawyer may also choose to resign. If you fire your lawyer or your lawyer resigns, you are entitled to a copy of your file and any fees you paid in advance that weren't earned. Keep in mind, however, that if you owe your lawyer for fees or costs already incurred, the lawyer may be able to hold onto your file until the money is paid. The lawyer may also be able to charge you to copy your file. You should look to your fee agreement for more information.
How can the Oregon State Bar help me?
The OSB Client Assistance Office may be able to help you resolve a problem with your lawyer that you are unable to resolve on your own. For instance, we may be able to help you get your file, or resolve a communications problem between you and your lawyer. We can explain and provide some general information about the legal system, the lawyer-client relationship, and the ethical obligations of lawyers. We can also refer you to other agencies and resources that offer help we cannot provide. The Client Assistance Office cannot give you legal advice and we cannot force a lawyer to resolve a problem in any particular way. You can reach the Client Assistance Office at (503) 620-0222 in the Portland metro area, and at (800) 452-8260 from elsewhere in Oregon.
What should I do if I think a lawyer has acted improperly?
If you think an Oregon lawyer has violated a disciplinary rule,
you can file a written complaint with the Client Assistance Office.
We will screen your inquiry to determine if there is sufficient
basis to warrant further investigation. We may refer it to Disciplinary
Counsel's Office for further review. You can review the disciplinary
rules contained in the
Code of Professional
conduct occurring through Dec. 31, 2004, or the newer Oregon
Rules of Professional Conduct
for conduct occurring
from January 1, 2005 forward.
While the filing of a complaint against a lawyer is a serious matter that should not be undertaken lightly, you do not need to be an expert on the legal profession's ethical standards to submit your concerns to the state bar. We will determine whether the lawyer has engaged in misconduct warranting disciplinary action. If not, we will try to provide some assistance for you to address the problem in some other way or advise you in writing why your concern is not covered by the rules of professional conduct. If you are not sure whether your concerns involve ethical misconduct, you can call the Client Assistance Office to discuss the matter.
If you want to file a complaint, you must put your concerns in
writing. No particular form is required. You may submit a complaint regarding an OSB Lawyer on our website
. Please print if you handwrite
a complaint. Include copies of any documents that are relevant to your complaint
if you have them. Do not send originals unless we specifically ask; we will
not return documents to you. Please note that all documents received by the
bar are considered public records. Please only use one side of each page.
What if I think my lawyer stole my money?
The OSB Client Security Fund may reimburse a client whose lawyer
has misappropriated or stolen money or other property. The theft
must have happened during the course of a lawyer-client relationship
or while the lawyer was acting as a fiduciary in connection with
the practice of law. Information about the Client Security Fund
and forms in order to apply for reimbursement are available online
or by contacting the office of OSB General Counsel at (503) 620-0222,
ext. 334 or (800) 452-8624, ext. 334 (toll-free within Oregon).
What if I think my lawyers fees are unreasonable?
Sometimes a lawyer's fees violate the rules of professional conduct. In these cases, the lawyer may be disciplined. More often, however, clients believe their lawyers' fees are not reasonable because they lost their case or because they feel their lawyers did a poor job representing them. In these cases, clients want their lawyers' fees to be reduced. The Fee Arbitration Program (FAP) offers a way for Oregon lawyers and their clients to voluntarily resolve these kinds of disputes over fees. Independent, voluntary arbitrators are used to help resolve lawyer fee disputes. The person who requests arbitration must pay a modest fee. The decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties, subject to only limited court review. If you would like more information on the FAP, or would like the help of the FAP in resolving a fee dispute, please call (503) 620-0222, ext. 399 to request forms. Please be sure to include the name and location of the lawyer involved in the dispute.
What if I think my lawyer committed malpractice?
Lawyers sometimes make mistakes. If the mistake causes a loss,
you may be able to recover through a malpractice suit. Legal
malpractice is the failure of a lawyer to represent a client
in a way that conforms with the legal standard of care in the
community. Note that not every bad result or error in judgment
is legal malpractice. If you think your lawyer might have been
negligent in representing you, you should contact a lawyer who
handles professional malpractice cases. All Oregon lawyers with
principal offices for the private practice of law in Oregon have
liability coverage in the event of a malpractice claim. The OSB
Referral and Information Service may be able to give you names
of lawyers in your community who handle such cases. Call (503)
684-3763 or (800) 452-7636 (within Oregon). You may also submit
your claim directly to the Professional Liability Fund. Additional
information is available from the OSB Professional Liability
Fund at (503) 639-6911 or (800) 452-1639 (within Oregon).
How can I find out if my lawyer has had problems in the past?
OSB records concerning lawyers are public. The Oregon State Bar
can provide general information over the telephone about a lawyer's
disciplinary history and about other inquiries concerning a lawyer.
Written records are available for public inspection by appointment.
Contact Disciplinary Counsel's records clerk at (503) 620-0222,
ext. 330 or (800) 452-8260, ext. 330 (within Oregon). Disciplinary
history for individual bar members also is available through the online member directory
Ethics Complaints and Lawyer Discipline
All inquiries and complaints about lawyer conduct are reviewed first by the
OSB Client Assistance Office to determine if there is sufficient basis to
warrant further investigation by the bar. Staff in that office may call you or
the lawyer for additional information. A copy of your written complaint will be
sent to the lawyer, and you will receive a copy of any written response the
If there is no sufficient basis
to warrant further investigation your complaint will be dismissed and you will
be notified. (Note that even with a dismissed complaint, the Client Assistance
Office may be able to help you in addressing your concerns.)
If the CAO finds sufficient
basis to warrant further investigation, your complaint will be referred to the
barís Disciplinary Counselís Office.
Investigation by Disciplinary Counselís Office
The OSB Disciplinary Counselís Office investigates all complaints referred by
the Client Assistance Office. You and the lawyer may be asked to submit
additional information or to respond to specific questions. Personal or
telephone interviews may be conducted, and staff may gather information from
other sources. You should not expect your complaint to be decided solely on the
basis of what you claim happened. Nor should the lawyer expect that a matter will
be decided based solely on his or her version. The
final decision must depend upon the weight of all the available evidence.
If Disciplinary Counselís
Office does not find sufficient evidence, the complaint will be dismissed and
you will be notified. You may ask for review of the dismissal decision.
If Disciplinary Counselís
Office finds sufficient evidence, the complaint is submitted to the State
Professional Responsibility Board (SPRB) for review. The SPRB is composed of
seven lawyers and two non-lawyer members of the public. The SPRB can dismiss
the complaint, send the lawyer to a diversion program, admonish the lawyer, or
authorize formal charges against the lawyer. The SPRB can also refer the
complaint to a Local Professional Responsibility Committee for further
Formal Charges and Hearing
If the SPRB finds that probable cause exists to believe that a disciplinary
rule violation has occurred, formal charges may be filed against the lawyer by
the bar. The lawyer is notified and required to answer the charges. A trial
panel is appointed to act as judge. Each trial panel includes two lawyers and
one non-lawyer public member; all of them are trained volunteers.
A formal hearing, much like a
court trial, will be held. Evidence in the form of testimony or documents is
presented to support the barís charges. The accused lawyer is given the
opportunity to defend the charges and confront witnesses. As in a trial,
witnesses testify under oath and a record is made of the proceedings. In most
cases, the person making the complaint will be called to testify at the
hearing. The trial panel issues a written decision, including findings of fact,
conclusions and a disposition regarding the charges.
Review by Oregon Supreme Court
A trial panelís decision is final unless either the bar or the accused lawyer
seeks review by the Oregon Supreme Court. The court has final authority
concerning disciplinary cases submitted to it; the courtís final action may be
a dismissal, a reprimand, a suspension or permanent disbarment.
How Long Does it Take?
The Client Assistance Office tries to perform its initial screening and sufficient
evidence determinations quickly and efficiently. Disciplinary Counselís
Office also handles investigations and charges as quickly as possible. It is
impossible to predict how long it will take to handle any particular complaint.
Much depends on the nature of the complaint and whether or not the facts are
disputed. You will be kept informed of the outcome of your inquiry or
Some Things You Should Not Expect
Reimbursement for Damages or Loss. You should not expect, as a result of an inquiry or complaint about a
lawyer, that you will receive any money or reimbursement of loss except as
may be available in a claim to the Client Security Fund or through the
lawyerís malpractice coverage or other civil claim.
Keep in mind that such claims are not part of the investigation of lawyer
conduct but are separate and distinct matters.
Legal Advice. We cannot give you
legal advice or represent you in your underlying legal matter. Other than
through the barís Referral and Information Service, we cannot recommend a
lawyer for you.
Out of State Lawyers. The Oregon
State Bar has authority only over the conduct of OSB members or lawyers
who have been granted special admission for a limited purpose. If you have
a complaint against a lawyer licensed in another state, contact the lawyer
regulatory agency in that state for information on making a complaint.
Contact information for most jurisdictions is available online. We
maintain records of all lawyers licensed in Oregon; you may search our
member directory to confirm whether a lawyer is admitted to practice in
Oregon. If you are not sure which state has authority to address the
complaint, you may contact the Client Assistance Office for information.
Non-lawyers. Only lawyers may
practice law, including: selecting and drafting legal documents; appearing
for another person in court; or providing legal advice or services to
another person on any matter involving the application of legal principles
to a specific situation. The Oregon State Barís Unlawful Practice of Law
Committee is authorized to investigate complaints that a nonlawyer is practicing law, and may seek restitution
for victims in a proceeding to enjoin the unlawful practice. If you wish
to make a complaint about non-lawyer practice, contact OSB General Counselís
office at (503) 620-0222, ext. 334, or (800) 452-8624, ext. 334 (toll-free
within Oregon) for information about how to present your complaint.
Rude and Unprofessional Behavior. The Oregon State Bar does not have authority to discipline lawyers who are
rude or discourteous. Poor customer service is generally not an ethical
violation. If your lawyerís rude or unprofessional behavior is affecting
your lawyer-client relationship, the Client Assistance Office may be able
Personal Matters. The bar generally
does not investigate matters that arise in a lawyerís
personal life, such as disputes with neighbors, creditors or spouses. If
you are unsure whether the lawyerís personal conduct
involves professional misconduct, you may contact the Client Assistance
Judges. The bar does not generally
have authority to investigate the conduct of judges for acts in the course
of their judicial duties. Complaints about a judge may be sent to the
Commission on Judicial Fitness & Disability, P.O. Box 1130, Beaverton,
Updated March 2014