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Once you’ve decided to take your grievance about an attorney to the State Bar, you need to file an attorney complaint form.
The State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel handles complaints from clients, members of the public, and other attorneys over unethical professional conduct.
You will be notified by mail after the bar has received your complaint, and an experienced State Bar lawyer will review it. If the complaint does not involve an ethical violation or provide information supporting such a violation, the file will be closed and you will be notified by mail. (You can, at this point, request in writing that the file be reviewed by the State Bar’s Complaint Review Unit).
If the file is not closed, a State Bar complaint analyst (supervised by a State Bar attorney) will write to the lawyer named in the complaint to collect their side of the story. Additional documents may be needed to determine whether the matter should be investigated further.
If there isn’t enough evidence to prove a serious ethical violation, the State Bar may issue a warning to the lawyer. The State Bar could issue an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline, in which the lawyer agrees to take corrective action. Such an agreement is not considered discipline.
If the State Bar attorney who reviews the complaint sees evidence of a serious violation, a full investigation will be launched.
If the State Bar decides to file charges against the attorney, it will go to the independent State Bar Court. A judge can dismiss the case, issue a private or public reproval or recommend that the lawyer be suspended or disbarred. The California Supreme Court has the final say in all attorney discipline cases.
If you lost money or property because a lawyer did something dishonest, you may be able to recover it by filing an application with the Client Security Fund. But first you need to file a complaint against the attorney.
If criminal conduct is suspected, the State Bar may also refer the matter to a law enforcement agency for investigation and potential prosecution.