Inquiries concerning the professional conduct of an attorney admitted to practice in Massachusetts are initially handled by the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) of the Office of the Bar Counsel. The ACAP staff is available to discuss your concerns by telephone during normal business hours and can be reached at (617) 728-8750. If you would prefer to communicate your problem in writing, you can contact ACAP by fax at (617) 482-2992, by letter, or by completing the complaint form available below and mailing or faxing it to the Office of Bar Counsel. ACAP cannot accept inquiries over the internet.
Where possible, ACAP will attempt to assist in resolving attorney-client disputes by providing information, calling the attorney, or suggesting alternative ways of dealing with the problem. Please see the ACAP link for more information about how ACAP may be of assistance to you. If the matter brought to the attention of ACAP involves potentially serious misconduct on the part of the attorney warranting prompt investigation by the Office of Bar Counsel, ACAP will immediately issue a complaint form.What You Should Know before Filing a Complaint
Complaint forms can be obtained by telephoning the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP), as explained above, or by submitting a written complaint using the form available below. Because of the confidentiality requirements complaints cannot be accepted via e-mail. Send complaints to the address below.
Office of the Bar Counsel
99 High Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02110
What Your Complaint Should Contain
In order for the investigation to proceed, it will be necessary that you provide as many facts and as much documentation as possible. Although you may feel certain that the acts complained of constitute misconduct, a simple statement that misconduct has occurred is not enough. You should set forth the facts surrounding your complaint. Include dates, the nature of the legal matter, and specific information about what you feel the attorney did wrong. If you have documents, including a fee agreement, court papers, letters or notes, that you think are helpful to understand the complaint, send copies. DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS.
Clients should not hesitate to ask their attorneys about anything concerning their cases, including costs and fees. Before filing a complaint, the client should try to discuss the problem candidly and openly with the attorney. Clients may become dissatisfied with their attorneys for many reasons, but unless there is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, discipline will not be imposed.
If you have any doubts about whether to proceed, ACAP will try to answer any questions you may have. The address and telephone number are listed above.
What Happens When You File a Complaint
After screening by ACAP, complaint forms are submitted to the Office of the Bar Counsel for investigation. Sometimes a complaint does not fit within the area that is regulated by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Please read the section entitled What Not to Expect, below. If Bar Counsel determines that your complaint falls into one of these categories, the complaint will be closed and notice will be sent to you. You may request review of this decision by a member of the Board. However, there is no appeal from a decision by the Board not to bring disciplinary charges against an attorney.
If an attorney is found to have committed a relatively minor infraction of the rules, the attorney may receive an admonition or be required to participate in a remedial program. If there appears to be serious misconduct, the matter is referred to a Hearing Committee appointed by the Board. All the evidence is reviewed and considered. Each side is heard. The Hearing Committee then submits a written report to the Board with its recommendation as to discipline.
If Bar Counsel and the attorney reach agreement as to discipline, the recommendation may be submitted directly to the Board without referral to a Hearing Committee.
The Board may accept or modify the recommendation for discipline. If the Board feels it needs additional information, it may return the case to the Hearing Committee for further hearing, or conduct hearings of its own before making a final determination.What Sanctions are Available
The types of discipline that may be imposed by the Board are:
Sometimes one of the above disciplines may be imposed with terms of probation. An attorney may also resign from the bar as a disciplinary sanction, but only with the Court's consent.
Decisions of the Board and the Court with respect to public discipline are released for publication. Decisions and orders are available on this website.
What to Expect
Complaints are not dismissed lightly, nor are they prosecuted without justification. The protection of the public is paramount in considering every complaint filed.
You may expect the following.
The Office of the Bar Counsel and the Board of Bar Overseers do not provide legal services or advice. If you wish to be referred to an attorney you might contact the Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at www.masslawhelp.com or at (617) 654-0400. The attorneys at the Office of the Bar Counsel do not and cannot represent you personally in the matters of which you complain.
Although an attorney may take corrective steps to avoid disciplinary action after he or she receives a complaint, the Board of Bar Overseers does not have power, for example, to compel an attorney to refund money or return files. The Board has only the power to discipline attorneys or recommend discipline to the Court.
You may have a civil claim against your attorney that can be pursued in the courts, a fee dispute that can be resolved by a bar association fee arbitration board, or a claim that will be considered by the Clients' Security Board. The Office of the Bar Counsel will tell you where to explore these other possibilities in appropriate cases.
Under Supreme Judicial Court rules, the Board and Bar Counsel must treat complaints as confidential matters. Until the attorney has been served with a petition for discipline instituting formal charges or has agreed to be formally disciplined, the Board and Bar Counsel may not publicly disclose that the complaint has been filed. Certain narrow exceptions to this prohibition exist. You are immune from liability based on your complaint.