How to File a Complaint
The professional conduct of every lawyer practicing law in the State of Maine is governed by the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and the Maine Bar Rules as promulgated by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The Board of Overseers of the Bar was created by the Court in 1978. The Board consists of six lawyers and three lay members (non-lawyer members of the public). The Board appoints members to three commissions established by the Bar Rules: the Fee Arbitration Commission, the Grievance Commission, and the Professional Ethics Commission. All members of the Board and its commissions serve as volunteers.
When attorneys enter the practice of law, they obligate themselves to uphold the law and to abide by the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Bar Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Those who violate the rules of professional conduct are subject to discipline, ranging from a public reprimand to disbarment. Because disciplining a lawyer is a serious matter, it takes evidence — proof of unethical conduct — to justify disciplinary action. Just as it takes proof before any member of society may be penalized for wrongdoing, the action of the lawyer must constitute unethical conduct before the lawyer is disciplined. An honest disagreement about how a case should be handled — or should have been handled — does not constitute unethical conduct, even if the outcome of the case is disappointing.
A mistake does not necessarily constitute unethical conduct either. If a mistake causes a loss, the client may be able to recover the loss in a civil suit against the lawyer for money damages. But a simple mistake or error in judgment by itself is not unethical conduct. There are situations that a client may find most annoying, but that do not constitute unethical conduct. An example would be the lawyer’s failure to consult with the client prior to writing every letter or prior to filing every document in the client’s case, or perhaps the lawyer’s failure to respond to all of the client’s telephone calls inquiring about the progress of the case. If you have a problem that may be the result of inadequate communications or some misunderstanding, it may be that the problem can best be resolved by a frank talk with your lawyer. Tell your lawyer of your dissatisfaction, and ask for a full explanation of the matter involved. Such a discussion will often either eliminate the problem or lead to its solution.
Finally, the disciplinary process cannot correct a lawyer’s personality problems. Allegations that a lawyer was rude, used bad language, or failed to pay a bill cannot generally be investigated by the disciplinary system.
While it is impossible to list all of the acts or omissions which may constitute unethical conduct, here are a few examples of prohibited conduct which, if proven, may be cause for discipline.
- A lawyer cannot or will not give you money that he or she is holding on your behalf and to which you are entitled, or will not provide you a complete written accounting for that money.
- A lawyer continually fails to respond at all to inquiries about your case, to tell you about court dates, or to appear in court. Where the problem is simply a lack of communication, first try your best to resolve the problem yourself.
- A lawyer advises you or anyone else to lie, or lies himself or herself in the course of a case. Lawyers pride themselves on their honesty. The profession does not need those who feel they must resort to deception to conduct their practice.
- A lawyer represents one party to a transaction while also the attorney for the other side. This is a conflict of interest and is generally prohibited unless both parties are fully aware of the situation and consent to it.
If you believe that your lawyer has engaged in unethical conduct, download the Board's Grievance Complaint Form (PDF - 46KB). Once you have filled out the form, mail it to the Board’s office to start the process.
Fee Arbitration Disputes
The Maine Bar Rules require that all attorneys admitted to practice in this State shall submit, upon the request of the client, to the resolution of any fee dispute in accordance with Rule 9. If you have a dispute about a lawyer’s fee, you may ask that your dispute be resolved by the Board of Overseers of the Bar’s Fee Arbitration process.
To start the process, download the Board’s form called a Petition for Arbitration of Fee Dispute (PDF - 58KB). When completing the Petition, be sure to include the facts of the dispute and copies of supporting documentation such as bills, receipts, and correspondence relating to the dispute. If you wish to provide evidence by electronic means (audio tapes, etc.) you must also provide a transcript of the recording.
No fees or other costs will be charged to anyone by the Board or Arbitration Panel for filing or hearing fee disputes. You may use, but should not need, a lawyer to help you complete your Petition and proceed through the fee arbitration process.