California Bar Journal
CBJ - August 2012 #02.
Local bars smooth over some attorney-client clashes
The California LawyerAugust 2012Local bars smooth over some attorney-client clashesBy Amy YarbroughStaff WriterWhen a client thinks their lawyer isn't being attentive enough, they often do not know what to do. They might end up calling the State Bar. But in a few California counties, unique programs are giving clients a locally based option to voice their concerns and resolve disputes before they warrant State Bar discipline.
For more than 25 years, the Orange County Bar Association has been running its client relations committee, a group of 30 volunteer lawyers who review and attempt to resolve client gripes about attorneys. The Contra Costa County Bar Association also has a client relations committee, started about 10 years ago.
Cameron M. Smith, co-chair of the Orange County committee, said some of the disputes his group looks into stem from the fact that a client simply doesn't understand the rules. Those end up getting resolved with just a phone call. More serious allegations involving possible misconduct are reported to the State Bar.
"We see our role not only to protect the public and serve our clients but we also see we have an important role in improving communication between the lawyers and clients," Smith said.
Robert Hawley, deputy executive director of the State Bar, said years ago just about every county bar association had a client grievance committee or some version of one. This was before the State Bar's attorney discipline system was enhanced through legislative reforms to serve as a fully staffed regulatory disciplinary agency for licensed attorneys. Prior to the late 1980's, attorney discipline in California was largely run by attorney volunteers, often at the local county bar level. Dissatisfaction with the informality of that process resulted in legislative reforms to the discipline system that professionalized the process, created the full time State Bar Court and established the State Bar's discipline system as we know it today. That model mirrors state licensing and disciplinary boards for other professionals.
Hawley emphasized that attorney misconduct issues need to reach the State Bar if discipline is appropriate. Only the State Bar, acting as the administrative arm of the Supreme Court...