A State Bar complaint typically does not come out of left field. Looking objectively at your work history, there are usually signs of distress leading up to the filing of a complaint by a disgruntled client. I would bet that most attorneys facing disciplinary investigations had missed appointments, unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, perhaps even missed deadlines and botched court appearances before they ended up before the State Bar.
None of us wants to end up before the Bar, and there are steps we can take to avoid it. Answering the phone, returning calls, adequately preparing for court appearances, and other positive actions obviously make the list. But what if those actions seem impossible? What do you do if it all seems to be too much, and even though you know what you should be doing, you just aren’t able to make yourself do it?
Consider finding a counselor who works with attorneys. Some of the issues we as attorneys face are universal and span all professions — procrastination being a huge one — so there are certain things that any counselor can help us address. But some of our issues are either unique to lawyers or complicated by the fact that we are practicing law. Our obligations to clients go beyond those of any business person hoping to keep their customer happy. We have a special set of fiduciary duties which make our communication with our clients that much more critical. Moreover, by virtue of the fact that we are even involved, the matter is something critical to the client, and often it is a highly personal and emotional issue. This raises the stakes for the client and for the attorney. Add to this the ethical rules by which we must abide, and the stress of failing to return a phone call or two or three begins to mount exponentially. This is where a counselor well-versed in lawyers and their problems can be worth their weight in gold.
So before the warning signs escalate into a State Bar complaint, get the help you need to make law practice more manageable. It isn’t going to get easier if a complaint is filed against you.