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Possible Ethical Problems
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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 informed.

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.

Dishonesty
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.

OTHER PROBLEMS

Fees
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.

Personal Behavior
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 matter.


The Iowa State Bar Association • 625 East Court Avenue • Des Moines, IA 50309
Ph. (515) 243-3179 • Fax (515) 243-2511
Email: isba@iowabar.org