A GUIDE TO ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURES IN NEW YORK STATE
Prepared by the NYSBA Committee on Professional Discipline
HOW ARE ATTORNEYS GUIDED IN THEIR CONDUCT?
As officers of the court, all attorneys are obligated to maintain the highest ethical standards. In furtherance of this obligation, attorneys are guided by a code of conduct, the NY Rules of Professional Conduct, as adopted by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. Attorneys who violate the law or fail to abide by this code of conduct are subject to discipline, which may include admonishment, reprimand, censure, suspension or loss of his or her license to practice law.
HOW ARE GRIEVANCES AGAINST ATTORNEYS HANDLED?
In New York State, authority over the conduct of attorneys rests with the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court and the discipline and grievance committees (the “committees”) appointed by that court. The committees are made up of both attorneys and non-attorneys, working with a court-appointed, state financed, full-time professional staff. Each committee investigates the complaints received by it or, in some cases, refers the complaint to a county bar association for resolution. Complaints must be in writing, and if the complaint describes conduct which would be considered improper, if proved, the attorney against whom the complaint is made must respond to the complaint in writing. If the committee determines after investigation that the attorney’s conduct was improper, it can send the attorney a letter of caution, admonition or reprimand, advising him or her of the impropriety of the conduct. These letters are not made public, but are retained as part of the attorney’s record. The complainant is advised if action is taken. In cases of serious misconduct, the committee may refer the matter to court for action. If the court, after a hearing by a disciplinary panel or referee, decides to take disciplinary action against that attorney, the decision customarily is made public.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM THE GRIEVANCE PROCESS?
The grievance process exists to protect the public. Committee panel members are not paid for their work, but volunteer to do this work in order to maintain the standards of the legal profession. By bringing a complaint to a committee’s attention, the public helps the legal profession achieve its goal. The committees act to resolve a complaint in a manner that is fair to both the complainant and the attorney. However, the only matters that will be addressed by the committees are questions of the ethical conduct of attorneys; they cannot represent you or give you legal advice. They cannot sue an attorney on your behalf, or seek the return of money or property from the attorney.
WHAT IS THE LAWYERS’ FUND FOR CLIENT PROTECTION?
The Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection is an organization that was created by the State Legislature in 1981 to reimburse losses caused by the dishonest conduct of New York attorneys in the course of their practice. It is funded by attorneys practicing in New York, who are required to pay a biennial registration fee in order to practice. The Fund receives 20% of the fee. An individual need not be represented by a lawyer in order to submit a claim to the Fund. For more information on the operations of the Fund and the filing of a claim with the Fund, you may write to the Fund at 119 Washington Avenue, Albany, New York 11210, or call the Fund’s toll-free number, 1-800-442-FUND. Their website is at: http://www.nylawfund.org
WHAT IS THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT FEE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROGRAM?
In the event of a fee dispute between an attorney and a client, the client may be entitled to request arbitration or mediation of the dispute through the Attorney-Client Fee Dispute Resolution Program established by the New York State Unified Court System. For information about the program, you may call 877-FEES-137 (877-333-7137) or visit http://www.nycourts.gov/admin/feedispute/index.shtml.
IF I NEED AN ATTORNEY TO GIVE ME FURTHER ADVICE, WHO CAN I CONTACT?
Many bar associations in New York State operate Lawyer Referral Services. When you contact a service, you will be given the name, address and telephone number of a lawyer in your area who may be able to help you. Check the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory for the number of your county bar association’s Lawyer Referral Service; if a Lawyer Referral Service does not operate in your county, you may call the New York State Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 1-800-342-3661 from anywhere in New York State (from the local Albany dialing area, call 463-3200 ext. 2700), or visit NYSBA,
WHO CAN I CONTACT FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR IN ORDER TO MAKE A COMPLAINT AGAINST AN ATTORNEY?
The grievance committees which are appointed by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court operate on a regional basis. On the reverse side of this brochure is a list of the grievance committees and the counties over which they have jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the committees is based upon the location of the office of the attorney against whom a complaint is being made. Therefore, you should make your complaint or inquiry known to the grievance committee which covers the county in which the attorney’s office is located.
New York and Bronx Counties:
Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Department
180 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038
Kings, Queens and Richmond Counties:
Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh and Thirteenth Judicial Districts
335 Adams Street, Suite 2400
Brooklyn, NY 11201-3745
Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester Counties:
Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District
399 Knollwood Road, Suite 200
White Plains, NY 10603
Nassau and Suffolk Counties
Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District
150 Motor Parkway, Suite 102
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Albany, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Madison, Montgomery, Otsego, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Warren and Washington Counties:
Committee on Professional Standards
286 Washington Avenue Extension
Albany, NY 12203
Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego Counties:
Grievance Committee for the Fifth Judicial District
224 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13202
Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates Counties:
Grievance Committee for the Seventh Judicial District
50 East Avenue, Suite 404
Rochester, NY 14604-2206
Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genessee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming Counties:
Grievance Committee for the Eighth Judicial District
438 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14202-3212