The Wyoming State Bar, working to maintain high ethical standards in the legal profession, has established a system of reviewing complaints against lawyers for unethical conduct. The system is funded wholly from Bar license fees paid annually by Wyoming attorneys. The following information will help explain the grievance process.
How are lawyers disciplined?
If a lawyer is found to have violated an ethical rule, one of the following levels of discipline may be imposed:
- The lawyer could receive a private reprimand, which means the lawyer is told he or she has broken a rule, a notation remains on the lawyer’s record for five years and a notice is published to all Wyoming lawyers which describes the misconduct but does not disclose the lawyer’s name; or
- The lawyer could receive a public censure which means that the violation of a rule by the lawyer is made public; or
- The lawyer’s license to practice law could be suspended for up to three years, during which time the lawyer may not practice law; or
- The lawyer’s license could be revoked, which means the lawyer is disbarred from the practice of law. After five years, the lawyer could seek reinstatement.
Should you file a complaint?
Charges that a lawyer has acted unethically are serious. A complaint should not be made lightly or to try to gain an advantage in your dealings with a lawyer. We usually will delay action on a complaint if there is pending litigation. Also, filing a complaint should not take the place of communicating with the lawyer to attempt to resolve differences.
As your problem might be the result of some misunderstanding or breakdown in communication with your lawyer, the problem may be resolved by a frank conversation. Tell your lawyer why you are dissatisfied, and ask for a full explanation of what is bothering you.
If you believe that you have made a sincere effort to solve your problem, but you still believe that the lawyer should be disciplined for his or her conduct, you may file a complaint. If the lawyer is found to have violated an ethical rule, the Board of Professional Responsibility will discipline the attorney or recommend discipline to the Wyoming Supreme Court. However, the disciplinary process will NOT serve to:
- recover money damages
- set aside a criminal conviction;
- make the lawyer take action you wish him or her to take;
- provide legal advice;
- offer other relief or assistance; or
- substitute for other civil or criminal remedies.
Please be advised that the complaint form and any other submissions by you will be sent to the respondent lawyer.
What the complaint process CANNOT address
Not all complaints about an attorney are subject to review through the Bar’s disciplinary process. Some problems with lawyers will need to be addressed in other ways. For example, the Wyoming State Bar will not open disciplinary cases on:
- Complaints about a lawyer’s fee If you cannot resolve a fee dispute with your lawyer, you may file a petition for fee arbitration. For a copy of the petition for the fee arbitration, you may request them from the Wyoming State Bar Office by calling (307) 432-2104 or click here.
- Dissatisfaction with the quality of a lawyer’s advice or strategy The Wyoming State Bar does not investigate or discipline a lawyer solely on the quality of the lawyer’s advice or strategy. A lawyer may, however, be investigated or disciplined for more serious situations, such as missing deadlines, failing to file required documents, or abandoning a client’s case. If you believe that your lawyer represented you poorly, your remedy may be to file a civil malpractice action, or, in a criminal case, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which addresses claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. These cases must be filed in a court of law, not with the Wyoming State Bar.
- Rude behavior by an attorney
- Complaints about judges in their judicial capacity Complaints about judges are handled by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, Attn: Wendy Soto, Executive Director, P.O. Box 2645, Cheyenne, WY 82003, (307) 778-7792 or you may click here.
- Allegations that a criminal defense attorney acted improperly, unless there is a court finding of ineffective assistance of counsel
- Allegations that a prosecutor acted improperly, unless there is a court finding of prosecutorial misconduct
- Civil disputes with a lawyer, such as the lawyer’s failure to pay a bill to someone who has provided goods or services directly to the lawyer, unless it appears that the lawyer improperly handled client funds These matters should be handled through the civil justice system if they cannot be resolved informally with the lawyer.
What happens after my complaint is filed?
When a complaint is received, it is reviewed by Bar Counsel to determine if a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is stated. You will receive a letter from Bar Counsel informing you that (1) the complaint does not appear to involve conduct that is within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Bar; (2) more information is needed; or (3) an investigation has been initiated. If an investigation is initiated, the attorney will receive a copy of your complaint letter and he/she is required to respond in writing to the allegations. Normally, you will receive a copy of the attorney’s response and will be requested to reply to it. Whether or not an investigation is initiated, you should expect that the attorney will receive a copy of your complaint.
Filing the Complaint Form
Complete the Ethical Violations Complaint Form. Mail the original complaint form, signed and dated, along with copies of any supporting documents. Do not send original documents, as they cannot be returned. Mail to:
Office of Bar Counsel
Wyoming State Bar
P.O. Box 109
Cheyenne, WY 82003-0109
Complaint forms may also be faxed to (307) 632-3737 or e-mailed to Shannon Howshar.
Complain About a Lawyer’s Fee