David Giacalone of f/k/a has this post about a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling reversing a gag rule on those who file ethics complaints against lawyers. (more details from this Star Ledger article (10/20/05) here.) Under the old rule, clients who filed grievances couldn’t discuss them publicly but now they can even though many of those grievances will not ripen into a formal complaint against the attorney.
Personally, I have no problem with opening up the grievance process, provided that the openess cuts both ways. If clients want to make public that they’ve filed a grievance against their attorney, then that grievance, along with the lawyer’s response should be made public as well. So, for example, the public would have access to a client complaint that a lawyer failed to return phone calls – as well as the lawyer’s response, explaining that the client called three times a day and was delinquent in paying the bill besides.
I also believe that opening the grievance process would actually make lawyers look better. I realize that there are many really unethical lawyers
but there are also plenty of unscrupulous clients who don’t pay bills,
who seek free advice or don’t provide the paperwork necessary to
document their claims. I’m not implying that representing a lousy
client justifies unethical conduct. But clients who don’t keep up
their end of the retainer agreement can’t expect the same level of
service or the same results as those who do. And many times, the lousy
clients who, by their own actions, wind up with the short end of the
stick, are the ones who file complaints and try to equate the lower
quality service that they received and deserved with ethical
violations. I’ve got no problem with exposing those kinds of claims
and clients who file them.