Concerns About Your Lawyer?
Arizona consumers deserve the highest quality legal representation. To achieve that goal, all lawyers in our state must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct. The State Bar of Arizona is responsible for investigating complaints regarding lawyer's misconduct.
If you have any questions about an Arizona lawyer's conduct, call the State Bar of Arizona's Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) at 602.340.7280. Outside of Maricopa County call 800.319.0514 x7280.
Before making that call, please read the following information. It provides general information about the lawyer discipline system in Arizona and the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP). You can also learn more by clicking links on the right side of this page.
The Responsibility of the State Bar of Arizona
The Arizona Supreme Court invested in the State Bar the authority to investigate charges against lawyers. Lawyer discipline is funded by annual fees paid by all members of the Bar, not by tax dollars.
The primary purpose of the disciplinary process is to protect the public. Lawyers engaged in serious misconduct, such as lying to the court, theft of client funds or certain crimes, may be suspended or disbarred. Other types of misconduct, such as not communicating with clients or failing to diligently pursue a case, may result in the lawyer being placed in a diversion program designed to educate the lawyer, assist the lawyer in improving his law office practices or could result in a lower level sanction including an admonition, probation or reprimand.
Generally, concerns about isolated instances of rude behavior will not result in a discipline investigation but may be referred to another Bar program that addresses unprofessional conduct. The State Bar may also be able to resolve some disputes between lawyers and clients.
The State Bar's jurisdiction is limited to investigating matters that if true would violate the Rules of the Supreme Court, particularly the Rules of Professional Conduct contained in Rule 42, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct.
The State Bar cannot investigate complaints of malpractice, resolve legal questions or give legal advice. The State Bar typically has no jurisdiction over issues pending in court or matters arising out of a lawyer's personal life, such as disputes with neighbors, creditors, or spouse. It also does not investigate complaints against judges. Those complaints should be sent to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, 1501 W. Washington, Suite 229, Phoenix, AZ, 85007.
A client has an absolute right to fire a lawyer for any reason. However, those reasons might not be sufficient cause for disciplining the attorney. Lawyers sometimes make mistakes that upset clients but do not constitute ethical violations.
Many charges are filed against lawyers who represent other people. This is especially common in the area of family law, where one spouse initiates a charge against the lawyer of the other spouse. Before initiating a charge against your opponent's lawyer, remember that it is an attorney's duty to vigorously represent his or her client. You may not like what the lawyer does, particularly if it has a negative impact on you, but that does not necessarily make the conduct unethical.
The cost of legal services is generally left to an agreement between the lawyer and the client. Disputes solely over legal fees are not usually investigated by the Lawyer Regulation Department. Generally all cases require either a written fee agreement or a writing that evidences the scope of the representation and the rate or basis of the fee. These types of documents usually help to avoid misunderstandings about the fees. However, disputes can arise between the lawyer and client.
The State Bar operates a fee arbitration program to provide a free method of resolving fee disputes. For the arbitration to be binding, both the client and the lawyer must agree to arbitrate. To receive forms for fee arbitration, call 602. 340.7288.
Charges You Should Make
Here are a few examples of the kinds of charges the State Bar has authority to investigate:
- A lawyer will not give you money he or she is holding on your behalf or will not give you a full written accounting.
- A lawyer continually fails to respond to inquiries about the case, to tell you about court dates or to appear in court.
- A lawyer lies or advises you or someone else to lie in the course of a case.
- A lawyer represents you as well as another person whose interests conflict with yours.
- A lawyer does not do what he or she has promised or does not do it in a timely way.
If you feel your lawyer or the opposing attorney has violated an ethical rule, using the examples listed as a guide, please call the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) for information or to initiate a bar charge. The direct line to call is 602.340.7280. Outside of Maricopa County call 800.319.0514 x7280. In most instances, you should call A/CAP before submitting anything in writing whenever possible. Telephone contact allows us to more quickly address your issues. If necessary a written submission can be made after speaking to an A/CAP lawyer.
If a charge is initiated by telephone, you should receive a call within one business day from an intake assistant who will talk with you about your case, explore the nature of your dispute and the details of the actions of the lawyer. This information will then be reviewed by the lawyers in A/CAP and you will receive a return phone call from one of these lawyers to discuss your inquiry in greater detail. If appropriate, the A/CAP lawyer will assist you in trying to resolve this dispute with the lawyer. However, if it is determined that a full investigation is warranted, the matter will be referred to bar counsel for an investigation and you may be asked to provide additional information in writing.
Review and Investigation
If your charge warrants a full investigation, the matter is referred to bar counsel. The lawyer will be notified of the investigation and the substance of the allegations. The lawyer is asked to submit a written response to the allegations. In most cases you will receive a copy of the lawyer's written response. You may be asked to provide additional information based on the response. In rare cases, a lawyer may ask that his or her response be considered confidential because it refers, for example, to other clients' confidential information.
If your charge does not meet the threshold for an investigation, you will be notified of that fact as well. We still notify the lawyer of the charge for informational purposes.
If, after investigation, the State Bar determines that there is probable cause to believe that the lawyer violated the ethics rules and there is clear and convincing evidence to show the violation, formal disciplinary proceedings may be filed against the lawyer. Under those circumstances, an evidentiary hearing may be held, and you may be required to appear as a witness.
Do not delay in exploring other possible remedies you may have against the lawyer simply because you have filed a bar charge. You can lose valuable legal rights if you wait for the conclusion of the State Bar's investigation. If you want to find out if you have other remedies against the lawyer, you should contact private counsel. If you believe a lawyer has acted illegally, you should report that conduct to appropriate prosecuting authorities. The State Bar's staff attorneys cannot give you legal advice or tell you what you should do.