Complaint Resolution Program FAQ

An alternative method for the resolution of lawyer disciplinary complaints

The public should expect lawyers to be competent, diligent and prompt in their capacity as professionals. Lawyers who do not meet this expectation may be in violation of Missouri's Rules of Professional Conduct, enforced under the authority of the Supreme Court of Missouri. The Rules set the legal profession's standards for ethical, professional behavior.

Clients or other lawyers who believe a lawyer has behaved unethically or unprofessionally should file a complaint with the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Missouri. That office will review the complaint, then determine whether it may be best resolved in a meeting with the parties and a third party neutral to assist them to resolve the complaint, or if more formal disciplinary proceedings are appropriate.

If the complaint alleges a severe breach of duty, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will start an investigation. If the charges are proven true, the lawyer will face a range of disciplinary actions.

If the alleged violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is less serious, but, nevertheless, an area of concern -- perhaps involving poor service or communications problems -- the Chief Disciplinary Counsel may refer the complaint to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program. Complaints involving lawyers who have a history of grievances being filed against them, although less serious in nature, will remain in the formal disciplinary system.

What is the Complaint Resolution Program

The Missouri Bar sponsors this program to provide the public and the legal profession a system to work together to ensure that clients receive quality service. The program assists with the resolution of complaints about lawyers that the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has determined may best be resolved outside the formal disciplinary system.

Through this program, clients and lawyers are provided an opportunity to meet, be heard and attempt to resolve the issue in a conference or meeting. All proceedings within the program are confidential.

The Complaint Resolution Program is authorized by Supreme Court of Missouri.

Who Benefits From the Complaint Resolution Program?

Clients and lawyers alike benefit from the services of this program. For clients, the program provides an opportunity to participate in the process to achieve a speedy and meaningful remedy to complaints. Previously, clients who filed complaints had no choice other than the formal discipline system. Lawyers benefit from a quicker resolution and have a chance to actively participate in the process of resolving the complaint against them.

Who Oversees the Complaint Resolution Program?

A five member committee appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors oversees the program. A Missouri Bar staff member administers the day-to-day activities.

What is the Cost to Use This Program?

There is no cost to either party to use the services of this program to resolve complaints. Funding for the program is provided by The Missouri Bar with assistance from The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company.

How Are Disputes Resolved?

The lawyer and client meet with a volunteer panel member who will assist them to voice their concerns, explore alternatives to resolve the dispute and aid them in reaching an agreement or resolution. The process is typically informal. The panel member will not decide the matter - the parties themselves work toward a mutually agreeable resolution with the assistance of the panel member. The parties must come to the meeting with a willingness to act in good faith to resolve the complaint. However, no one will be coerced into accepting any agreement or resolution with which they are not comfortable.

If appropriate, the lawyer respondents may be referred to programs to assist them with practice management or other issues in order to avoid repeating the circumstances that raised the complaint. Clients may also be informed about issues relating generally to the legal system to help clear up any misunderstanding, or they may be referred to other sources. The panel member will not act in the capacity of a lawyer or give specific legal advice while assigned to the matter.

Who Are The Voluntary Panel Members?

The panel members are volunteer lawyers from throughout the state who generously donate their time to this public service program. They are appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors. The panel members are trained specifically to handle these types of matters. The panel members will remain neutral -- they will not take the side of either party, but they are there to assist the parties.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Use This Program?

The process is very informal, thus it is not necessary to have a lawyer represent you. All parties, however, have the right to be represented by a lawyer at the meeting at their expense. The panel member establishes the ground rules for the meeting and ensures that both parties are heard equally and that no one party overpowers the meeting.

How are Complaints Filed in This Program?

All complaints about lawyer disciplinary matters must be filed with The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The Chief Disciplinary Counsel is appointed by the Supreme Court of Missouri to handle ethical complaints about lawyers. Only the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has the authority to investigate and refer complaints that may be best resolved outside of the traditional disciplinary system to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program.

Complaints about lawyers should be made in writing detailing the complaint and mailed to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, 3335 American Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65109.

Cases may be referred to the Complaint Resolution Program by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel only after they have been thoroughly screened and reviewed.

What Happens When the Complaint is Referred to the Program?

After the complaint is referred, the program administrator at The Missouri Bar will open an active file and ask both parties to sign a form voluntarily agreeing to participate in a meeting to attempt to resolve the matter. The lawyer is asked to formally respond to the complaint. When the response from the lawyer and the consent forms are received, the matter is assigned to a panel member and the meeting is scheduled as quickly as possible.

The meeting will be scheduled at a time convenient for both parties. The panel member will not serve as a judge, but will assist the parties to reach an agreement or understanding. Following the meeting, the panel member will verify that any performance required in the agreement has been completed. The file will then be returned to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel with a report. The matter is then closed.

Where Will the Meeting be Held?

The meetings are held in a location that is as convenient as possible to both parties, usually in your town or city. The panel members travel to the location.

What if the Lawyer Does Not Agree to Participate?

If the lawyer does not respond or does not agree to participate in the meeting, or more serious misconduct is revealed, the file will be returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel who will determine if the complaint should be handled in the formal disciplinary process.

What if the Complainant Does Not Agree to Participate?

If the complainant does not wish to participate in the meeting, the file will be closed and returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for whatever action, if any, is appropriate.

Who Do I Contact For More Information?

The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel
335 American Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65109

or

The Missouri Bar
PO Box 119
Jefferson City, MO 65102
(573) 635-4128
mobar@mobar.org