Four Things Every Attorney Must do After Getting a Letter from Bar Counsel
If you have practiced law for any length of time in Maryland, you have–or will–receive a letter from Bar Counsel. This is the office that investigates complaints filed against licensed attorneys. As you probably already know, such complaints are commonplace. Bar Counsel receives approximately 2,000 complaints each year, most of which are resolved without any adverse action against the attorney.
In a handful of cases, Bar Counsel may initiate a formal disciplinary process before the Attorney Grievance Commission. If you do not want to find yourself included among this select group, here are four things to keep in mind when that first letter from Bar Counsel arrives on your desk.
Open the Letter Right Away
This may sound obvious, but as attorneys, we are used to dealing with a slew of mail and messages every day. It is easy for a letter to get lost in the shuffle. But remember, like all legal notices there is a deadline to respond to an initial letter from Bar Counsel. If you fail to respond in a timely manner and no extension has been requested or granted, that alone may be interpreted as a violation of legal ethics rules and trigger a formal proceeding before the Commission. So open a Bar Counsel letter the day it arrives.
Do Not Engage in a Quid Pro Quo with the Complainant
Oftentimes, bar complaints are filed by a current or former client of the attorney. Once a bar complaint has been filed, it is absolutely imperative that you avoid any attempts to encourage that current or former client to drop their bar complaint. Indeed, Maryland lawyers have been disciplined for engaging in a quid pro quo with their current or former clients in exchange for dropping their bar complaint.
Contact Your Malpractice Insurer
If you have professional negligence or “Errors & Omission” insurance–and you should–you need to notify your carrier as soon as possible after receiving a Bar Counsel letter. Under many malpractice policies, your insurance company will pay anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000, depending on the policy and the carrier, for you to be represented by counsel in these disciplinary proceedings with no deductible or out-of-pocket costs to you. Keep in mind that if you fail to notify your malpractice carrier of a bar complaint, it could lead to a denial of coverage in the event a disciplinary proceeding leads to a civil malpractice claim against you.
Hire a Professional Licensing Attorney
Even lawyers need lawyers. You would never advise a client to represent themselves in a judicial and administrative proceeding. You need to follow the same advice when dealing with Bar Counsel. Even if you believe the subject of the letter reflects a misunderstanding–or perhaps is just the ramblings of a disgruntled former client–you need to take the matter seriously, and that means hiring a lawyer who focuses on Maryland attorney licensing matters and understands how to deal with Bar Counsel in a thorough and professional manner.
Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. Today
Once again, just because you receive a letter from Bar Counsel, that does not mean you will face a formal disciplinary proceeding. The majority of cases are resolved simply by responding to the Board’s concerns in a timely and thorough manner. If you need assistance in dealing with Bar Counsel, contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. today at 410-514-6099.
(image courtesy of Ethan Hoover)