The Grievance Process

About the Washington State Bar Association

What is the Washington State Bar Association?

Who disciplines lawyers in Washington? 

What we can and cannot do

Can you tell me if a lawyer is licensed in Washington?

Can you help me communicate with my lawyer?

Can you help me get my file from my lawyer?

Can you help me if my lawyer mishandled my money? 

Can you send me more information? 

Can you represent me or give me legal advice?

Can you help me with a fee dispute?

Can I file a grievance against a judge?

Can I file a grievance against someone who is not a lawyer?

What are matters that disciplinary counsel might not investigate?

Filing a grievance

What does it mean to file a grievance?

How do I file a grievance?

How can you help me file a grievance?

Will filing a grievance have an impact on my court case? 

Will the lawyer know that I filed a grievance?

Is a grievance public information? 

Who can file a grievance? 

Can I file grievances against more than one lawyer?

What contact information do you need for me? 

After you file a grievance

What happens after I file a grievance?

What can I do if my grievance is dismissed?

What happens if I request review of my dismissed grievance?  

What does "judicial finding of impropriety" mean in a dismissal letter or review committee order?

What happens if you investigate my grievance?

What is diversion? 

Discipline information

Is a grievance public information? 

What is public discipline? 

Can you tell me if a lawyer was the subject of discipline? 


What is the Washington State Bar Association?

The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) is the licensing organization for lawyers in Washington State. It is funded by fees its members pay.

Who disciplines lawyers in Washington?

The Washington State Supreme Court regulates lawyer conduct and delegates authority to the WSBA’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel to review complaints (grievances) against lawyers.

Can you tell me if a lawyer is licensed in Washington?

Yes. To check the status of a lawyer’s license or to view a lawyer’s public disciplinary history please see our lawyer directory. For more complete information, call (206) 727-8207.

Can you help me communicate with my lawyer?

Yes. If your lawyer does not return your telephone calls, write to your lawyer and ask him or her to call you. For a sample letter, please see Communicating with Your Lawyer. Please call us before you file a grievance against your lawyer about a communication problem. 

Can you help me get my file from my lawyer?

Yes. A lawyer cannot withhold your file if this materially interferes with your legal interests. You should write a letter to your lawyer to ask for your file. For a sample letter, please see Client Files. Also, see WSBA Formal Opinion 181. Please call us before you file a grievance against your lawyer about a file dispute.

Can you help me if my lawyer mishandled my money?

Yes.  If, after a reasonable inquiry, you think your lawyer mishandled your money or property, you should act promptly.  File a grievance with our office and seek independent legal advice. If you think your lawyer committed a crime, you should contact your local police department or prosecuting attorney. You may be eligible for some compensation from the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection Board. You can ask for an application by calling (206) 443-9722.

Can you send me more information?

Yes. Please call us at (206) 727-8207 for grievance forms, rules, brochures, or other information.

Can you represent me or give me legal advice?

No. You may want to consider contacting another lawyer to represent you in any ongoing civil or criminal case. There are time deadlines for both civil and criminal proceedings, so you should not wait to take other action.  For information on lawyer referral services, please check with your local bar association or see the WSBA’s lawyer referral information. For King County, contact the King County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service or call (206) 267-7010. We do not make referrals and we cannot recommend a lawyer for you.

Can you help me with a fee dispute?

No. You should not expect to receive a refund of fees as a result of filing a grievance. Discuss your concerns about fees with your lawyer and review Alternative Dispute Resolution. For information about dispute resolution centers, please see Resolution Washington.  The WSBA's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section offers a directory of private, professional individuals and organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution.

Can I file a grievance against a judge?

No.  Our office cannot consider grievances against judges based on their actions in a judicial capacity. The Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC) considers issues of judicial misconduct and disability. See RPC 8.5(c). You can contact the CJC at P.O. Box 1817, Olympia, Washington 98507-1817. Complaints against administrative law judges should be made to the Chief Administrative Law Judge, Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 42488, Olympia, Washington 98504-2488. Complaints against federal judges should be made to the Clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals, P.O. Box 193939, San Francisco, California 98119-3939.

Can I file a grievance against someone who is not a lawyer?

No, not with our office.  If your grievance involves a non-lawyer who is not affiliated with a licensed lawyer, we recommend that you contact the Practice of Law Board by calling (206) 727-8252. Call us if you are not sure about a person’s membership status.  If your grievance involves a limited practice officer (a person closing a real or personal property transaction), see additional information on our website.

What are matters that disciplinary counsel might not investigate?

Here are some examples:

Errors in judgment:  Disagreements about the way a case should be handled, or a mistake.

Rude behavior:  Conduct that you think is rude or discourteous, or poor customer service.

Opposing lawyer:  Conduct that has a negative impact on you but does not involve an ethical violation.

Personal matters:  Disputes with neighbors, creditors, or spouses.

What does it mean to file a grievance?

When you file a grievance, you are accusing a lawyer of unethical conduct. Before you file a grievance, try to resolve your dispute directly with the lawyer. If you are a client, a lawyer may refuse to continue to represent you after you file a grievance and you may need to find a new lawyer. 

How do I file a grievance?

All grievances must be in writing. Note that we will scan and then destroy the documents you submit. We prefer that you use our grievance form, which contains additional instructions. You may submit your grievance form online using our electronic grievance form; or mail, or deliver your grievance to us. We do not accept grievances over the phone.  You may file a grievance at any time. There is no fee to file a grievance.

How can you help me file a grievance?

If you have a disability and need help writing your grievance, please call us and we will take reasonable steps to accommodate you. You must submit your grievance in English.  We cannot help you decide whether you should file a grievance.   

Will filing a grievance have an impact on my court case?

No. However, if you are a client, a lawyer may refuse to continue to represent you after you file a grievance and you may need to find a new lawyer. Disciplinary proceedings are not a substitute for protecting your legal rights and we will not become involved in your case. We only have authority to discipline a lawyer.

Will the lawyer know that I filed a grievance?

Yes. We will provide your grievance to the lawyer, and we may provide it to others if your grievance is investigated. Call us before you file a grievance if you have concerns about the result of filing your grievance.

Is a grievance public information?

Your grievance is not public information when you file it, but all information related to your grievance may become public. Call us before you file a grievance if you have a question about confidentiality.

Who can file a grievance?

Anyone - members of the public, judges, lawyers - can file a grievance against any lawyer. If you are concerned about disclosure of your identity to the lawyer, please read Rule 5.2 of the Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct before you file a grievance or call us at (206) 727-8207. Calls from judges and lawyers receive priority.

Can I file grievances against more than one lawyer?

Yes. You can file multiple grievances but each grievance is a separate confidential matter and we suggest that you use a separate form for each grievance. This applies whether you mail a grievance to us or file a grievance electronically.

What contact information do you need for me?

We will communicate with you about your grievance in writing and not by email or phone. Please provide a current mailing address on your grievance form and inform us as soon as possible if you change your mailing address.

What happens after I file a grievance?

Disciplinary counsel reviews your grievance to decide what, if any, action to take. We will send you information after our initial review within two weeks of filing your grievance. If we review your grievance and decide to dismiss it, we will tell you why. If we ask the lawyer to respond to your grievance, generally you will receive a copy of the lawyer’s response and have time to reply. 

What can I do if my grievance is dismissed?

If your grievance is dismissed, you can request review by a review committee of the Disciplinary Board, which consists of both lawyers and non-lawyers. You must request review in writing, and mail or deliver your request to us within 45 days of the dismissal date. If your grievance is dismissed, we typically destroy the file three years after the original dismissal.

What happens if I request review of my dismissed grievance?

review committee can consider disciplinary counsel’s dismissal of a grievance and uphold the dismissal, order further investigation, or order other action. This process can take several months, but we encourage you to send us additional information promptly. A review committee makes a decision based on the documents submitted and then issues an order without a detailed explanation. Neither you nor the lawyer can attend a review committee meeting, and the review committee’s deliberations are not public. The decision of a review committee cannot be appealed.

What does "judicial finding of impropriety" mean in a dismissal letter or review committee order?

A judicial finding of impropriety means that a judge considered the issue you raised in your grievance and decided that there was misconduct by the lawyer.

What happens if you investigate my grievance?

If we investigate your grievance, we gather additional information.  We cannot predict how long it will take to complete the investigation. After investigation, disciplinary counsel may dismiss your grievance or recommend that a review committee of the Disciplinary Board order an admonition or hearing. For less serious misconduct, we can divert a grievance from discipline if a lawyer agrees to a diversion contract, which if successfully completed results in dismissal of the grievance. If a review committee orders a hearing, an appointed hearing officer makes the decisions that follow. Generally, you can attend any hearing related to the grievance as hearings are public. We may call you as a witness and ask you to testify under oath.

What is diversion?

For less serious misconduct, we can divert a grievance from discipline if a lawyer agrees to a diversion contract, which if successfully completed results in dismissal of the grievance. If the lawyer fails to complete a diversion contract, the grievance is reinstated and it may result in public disciplinary action.

Is a grievance public information?

Your grievance is not public information when you file it, but all information related to your grievance may become public. Call us before you file a grievance if you have a question about confidentiality.

What is public discipline?

A final determination that a lawyer violated the Rules of Professional Conduct may lead to public discipline. Public discipline includes disciplinary sanctions and admonitions, which result in a permanent public disciplinary record. Disciplinary sanctions are reprimands, suspensions from the practice of law (up to three years), and disbarments. Only the Supreme Court can suspend or disbar a lawyer.  A suspended or disbarred lawyer cannot practice law.

Can you tell me if a lawyer was the subject of discipline?

Yes. Call us to ask about a lawyer's public discipline. Contact the the Clerk to the Disciplinary Board for copies of public discipline records.  Disability proceedings are not disciplinary proceedings; most aspects of disability proceedings are strictly confidential. Generally, grievances against a lawyer are confidential.

Grievance Form

Print or download a form

E-Grievance Form

File a grievance online

E-Grievance Tips

Frequently asked questions

Lawyer Discipline in Washington

Explanation of the lawyer discipline process

Lawyer Discipline in Washington in Spanish

En espaƱol

Additional Information

Before you file a complaint against a lawyer, please read:

Communicating with Your Lawyer

Client Files

Alternative Dispute Resolution