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.
Who may be disciplined?
All attorneys licensed in Wyoming, attorneys allowed to temporarily practice in Wyoming without a license (pro hac vice), and any attorney practicing law in Wyoming may be disciplined if he or she has violated a Rule of Professional Conduct. It does not matter whether the attorney lives in Wyoming.
Attorneys who violate a Wyoming Rule of Professional Conduct are accountable for their actions regardless of the lawyer’s gender, race, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, protected characteristic, socioeconomic status, geographical location, employment, or elected or appointed position. An attorney may not engage in violations of professional conduct but escape liability based upon any of the preceding factors.
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. For that reason, when you file that complaint, you must “swear or affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the information contained [within the complaint] is a true, accurate and complete statement of the facts supporting [the] complaint.” We do not accept anonymous complaints.
We usually will delay action on a complaint if there is pending litigation. This includes complaints by opposing parties or lawyers while a lawsuit is ongoing. 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 lawyer will be disciplined. 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, attachments, and any other submissions by you will be sent to the respondent lawyer. This may include emails sent to the Office of Bar Counsel.
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 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.
- 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 the Office of Bar Counsel (“OBC”) to determine if a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is stated. You will receive a letter from the OBC informing you that (1) the complaint will not be pursued and is dismissed for reasons which will be stated in the letter you receive from the OBC; (2) more information is needed; or (3) the OBC has begun an investigation. If an investigation begins, the attorney will receive a copy of your complaint letter and all attachments. The lawyer must 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. The OBC allows several weeks to respond to letters from the complainant and the attorneys. Several rounds of correspondence may take place. The OBC may perform additional investigation. It is not uncommon for investigations to take several months to resolve.
The complaint and investigation remain confidential unless a Formal Charge is filed. You will be notified before a Formal Charge is filed. If you violate the confidentiality requirement, your complaint may be dismissed.
Whether or not an investigation is initiated, you should expect that the attorney will receive a copy of your complaint.
What are the possible outcomes of a complaint?
If a lawyer is not found to have violated an ethical rule, the complaint may be dismissed without further action or the complaint may be dismissed after investigation.
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, the reprimand 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.
Another non-disciplinary outcome allows a lawyer to enter a diversion program, a program that helps attorneys who have engaged in minor acts of misconduct linked to poor law office management, chemical dependency, or other behavioral health problems. If the attorney does not obey the diversion program, he or she may be disciplined.
Most complaints are resolved without a hearing. However, if the Office of Bar Counsel finds that an attorney violated a Rule but cannot reach an agreement with the attorney about the appropriate discipline, a hearing is required. In that case, you will need to testify at the hearing.
If discipline is imposed, how did it happen?
There are several stages in this process. The short version is this: (1) the Office of Bar Counsel decided that there was clear and convincing evidence of a Rules violation; (2) the Review and Oversight Committee determined there was probable cause to grant authority to file a Formal Charge; (3) a Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility decided discipline was necessary, whether through a hearing or stipulation; and (4) the Wyoming Supreme Court enters an Order disciplining an attorney.
Only the Wyoming Supreme Court has the authority to issue orders of public discipline.
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
Complain About a Lawyer’s Fee