Office of Disciplinary Counsel
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) is the department of the Bar Association responsible for reviewing, investigating and prosecuting grievances about the ethical conduct of Washington lawyers. The Chief Disciplinary Counsel is the department director. There is one intake unit, three investigation-prosecution units, and one unit of investigators. The intake unit receives all phone inquiries and written grievances, and conducts the first review of grievances, dismissing some and recommending further investigation for others.
After a confidential investigation, if disciplinary counsel believes there is evidence of an ethical violation or a lawyer's disability, disciplinary counsel may refer a matter to a review committee of the Disciplinary Board. Among other things, a review committee may dismiss the matter, order further investigation, or order a hearing. Disciplinary counsel may divert less serious matters to rehabilitative programs.
Disciplinary hearings are public. Volunteer hearing officers conduct the hearings. The Disciplinary Board considers appeals from hearing officer decisions. Disciplinary actions include admonition, reprimand, suspension up to three years, disbarment, probation, and restitution. The Disciplinary Board and Supreme Court review all cases involving suspension or disbarment.
If you have a lawyer's name or bar number, you can access public disciplinary information about the lawyer on the Discipline Notices page. Be aware that the list of discipline notices may not show a lawyer's entire discipline history.
For communication problems with your lawyer, or for disputes about the return of a file, please carefully review Communicating with Your Lawyer and/or Client Files. Before you consider filing a grievance, and for a discussion of what the Bar Association can and cannot do, please carefully review Lawyer Discipline in Washington. Grievances can be filed electronically.
For disputes about a lawyer's fee, please consider resolving the matter directly with the lawyer and review Alternative Dispute Resolution. For a complete listing and detailed information about dispute resolution centers, please go to Resolution Washington. The WSBA's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section offers a directory of private, professional individuals and organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution.
For more information about public discipline against a lawyer, or for more information about the grievance process, please leave a message with our Consumer Affairs staff at 206-727-8207. We generally return calls within 24 hours.
To speak with Professional Responsibility Counsel about ethics issues, Washington lawyers can call the Ethics Line (206-727-8284 or 800-945-WSBA, ext. 8284).
For questions about whether to file a complaint against another lawyer, please call 206-727-8207 to speak to Disciplinary Counsel. Disciplinary Counsel can discuss the RPC that might apply to the conduct you describe but cannot give an opinion on whether conduct violates the RPC. You are not required to disclose the name of the lawyer who is the subject of your call. Also see RPC 8.3 (reporting professional misconduct is not required but self-regulation creates an aspiration to report serious violations of the RPC), and ELC 5.3(d) (investigations may be deferred when allegations relate to pending civil or criminal litigation). Grievances can be filed electronically.
For trust account questions, our booklet Managing Client Trust Accounts may be helpful.
For information about responding to a grievance also see Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct and Related Rules.
Members can request a Certification of Current Status (which shows a lawyer's status with the WSBA as of a certain date) or a Certification of Status History (which shows public information that affected a lawyer's status with the WSBA) from the WSBA's Regulatory Services Department. Members, or others, can also request a Discipline History Certificate, which has confidential disciplinary information, directly from ODC. For a Discipline History Certificate (which certifies a lawyer’s status, the date of admission, and summarizes grievances and/or discipline imposed), a request must be in writing and signed by the lawyer. The charge is $30, and additional originals are $1 each. If an organization or other party requests the information, the lawyer must sign an authorization. The turnaround time is one to two weeks. For expedited or other special service, there is an additional charge of $7.50 per lawyer.
To order a Discipline History Certificate, send a written request to the WSBA Office of Disciplinary Counsel at 1325 4th Avenue, Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98101-2539; fax 206-727-8325. You can pay by check (payable to the WSBA), MasterCard, or Visa. If you pay by credit card, please give us the card number, expiration date, and the name as it appears on the card. Please include the following: (1) the lawyer’s name, (2) the lawyer’s Bar number, (3) the number of originals requested, (4) the address where the Discipline History Certificate should be mailed, (5) the appropriate fee, and (6) an authorization signed by the lawyer, if necessary. For questions regarding Discipline History Certificates, please contact Consumer Affairs at 206-727-8207 or at email@example.com.
Procedures for the lawyer discipline system
Standards of ethical conduct for lawyers
Steps and forms for filing a grievance
FAQs about a lawyer's response
Before you file a complaint against a lawyer, please read:
Communicating with Your Lawyer
Alternative Dispute Resolution
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