Lawyers are expected to meet high professional standards which are
set forth in rules adopted by the Iowa Supreme Court. If a lawyer
violates an ethical rule, the lawyer may be disciplined.
Some problems with lawyers are properly the subject of a complaint of
ethical violation to the Attorney Disciplinary Board. Others are not.
Here are a few examples of complaints handled by the Board:
Neglect and Delay
Do you think your lawyer has been taking too long with your legal
matter? Write to your lawyer and ask for a written explanation. If you
do not get a satisfactory reply, you may file a complaint. Lawyers are
required to be reasonably prompt and to keep clients reasonably
Money and Accounting
Sometimes lawyers handle money for clients. The lawyer must promptly
and completely account for a client’s money. If there is any
significant delay in receiving money from a lawyer or in getting a
complete accounting, a complaint can be filed.
Conflicts of Interest
A lawyer owes a client his undivided loyalty, unburdened by the
interests of other clients or the lawyer’s own personal interest. A
lawyer should not represent more than one client in a matter unless both
consent after full disclosure by the lawyer. If you believe that your
lawyer is acting improperly in representing conflicting interests, you
may file a complaint.
Lawyers are forbidden to make intentionally false statements, either to
their own clients or to others. If you believe your lawyer has lied to
you, such as to cover up his neglect of your matter, you may file a
complaint. Lawyers may represent their clients’ interests aggressively,
which may involve relying on the clients’ version of the facts. In
lawsuits, most disputes about the facts are resolved by the courts.
Though it is unethical for a lawyer to charge a clearly excessive fee,
the Board cannot resolve a fee dispute. A fee dispute usually does not
involve ethics but is a legal dispute that must be resolved in the court
by the application of basic principles of contract law. Fee
arbitration is an alternative method of resolving a fee dispute. Though
not every local county bar association has a fee arbitration committee,
your local bar association can be contacted to determine if it does
have one or can create one to which your fee dispute can be submitted.
Malpractice, or Professional Negligence
Lawyers, like other professionals, sometimes make mistakes. A lawyer
might handle a matter in a way that is inadequate but not unethical. If
a client is damaged by a lawyer’s negligence, another lawyer should be
consulted as to whether legal action should be brought in court. The
Attorney Disciplinary Board has no jurisdiction of a negligence claim.
Most complaints that involve the behavior of an attorney outside the
practice of law, such as rudeness, the use of profanity, landlord-tenant
disputes and debtor-creditor matters generally are not professional
ethics violations. However, serious matters, such as fraud or criminal
offenses, may be subject to discipline.
The Opponent’s Lawyer
Can you complain against the other person’s lawyer? Sometimes, but such
complaints often fail to understand our adversary system of justice.
Lawyers must represent their own clients aggressively, and are usually
entitled to rely on their client's version of the facts.
Such a system often produces different versions of the facts in
lawsuits and a certain amount of hard feelings. Only flagrant abuses
will result in discipline and usually after a court has ruled on the