I hope this isn’t something you have to spend time thinking about, but, have you ever wondered what happens to lawyers when they do something wrong? Have you ever wondered what to do if you believe your lawyer has done something wrong (or failed to do do something right) in working with you? What do you do if you have reason to believe your lawyer did something that doesn’t seem “right” in dealing with the court, another lawyer, or another party while working on your case? It happens. Lawyers are people, and, people screw up.
The Minnesota Supreme Court is responsible for overseeing the conduct of lawyers practicing law within the State. The task of investigating and determining what to do when a lawyer screws up, is the responsibility of the Lawyers Board of Professional Responsibility, composed of judges, lawyers and non-lawyers, which oversees the work of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (The OLPR).
The OLPR is comprised of staff attorneys whose job it is to investigate and determine what to do when a report is made of a lawyer’s screw up (perhaps I’ll use the term ‘misconduct’). Because of the volume of reports that are made (in 2015 more than 1200 reports were received by the OLPR) the OLPR needs a little help, and will therefore assign many of these reports to a District Committee. There are 21 District Committee’s spread across the State. Depending on the location of the attorney being reported, there is a Committee whose job it is to investigate that report. The Committee (composed of lawyers and non-lawyers) will investigate the report, make findings as to what happened, recommendations as to what to do, and then report back to the OLPR. The OLPR makes a final decision, which can then be reviewed by the Supreme Court. In a nutshell, that’s the process.
The number of reports (approximately 1200 in 2015) may seem high, but, considering that there are approximately 29,000 lawyers registered in the State, that’s about 4% of lawyers who will have a complaint made about them in a year.
Having been part of that 4%, I can say from experience that the process of being reported and investigated because of a reported screw-up (there I go again, misconduct) is a thorough one. And so it should be. In addition to being law-abiding, and presumably having the ability to understand the law, there are a lot of important rules (58 to be precise) that the Supreme Court came up with for lawyers to follow in order to maintain the integrity of the legal profession. These rules cover such areas as duties and obligations to our clients (i.e. be diligent and communicate effectively), to the law (i.e. respect the law in providing legal services), to the courts (i.e. have merit to cases that you bring to court), to the public (i.e. serve the public, and do something good like provide pro bono legal services), and to the legal profession (i.e. report a lawyer’s misconduct when you see it). It’s important that lawyers pay close attention to these rules, and, that clients know about these rules too, since their lawyer is supposed to be following them.
People should know that it is vital to the legal profession to report something that they believe is wrong about what lawyer is doing. That’s why the Rules of Professional Conduct exist, that’s why the Board of Professional Responsibility exists, and that is why I serve as an investigator on my local Ethics Committee.
Having been both investigated because of a reported screw up, and investigating reports of other lawyers screwing up, I know first-hand that lawyers can and should be accountable for their conduct with their clients, the courts, and the public. I encourage anyone with questions about the attorney discipline process or to report a suspicion of lawyer misconduct, to contact the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, lprb.mncourts.gov, or to contact me.
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