Your First Grievance

Getting an RI letter from the Attorney Grievance Commission can take your breath away but not in the good way.

It starts like most days: appointments, phone calls to return, e-mails. You have been in your routine for some time now, so you pretty much know what to expect. Your day is for the most part set, and you have it handled. You check the mail, and there it is - a letter from the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

If you are like most lawyers, your heart sinks, and you stare at the envelope, afraid to touch it. You didn't see this coming. Maybe from time to time the thought had occurred that you might have this moment. You remember paging through your copy of the Bar Journal reading the notices of discipline to see if you recognize any familiar names, and the thought occurred to you, "Boy, I'm glad that's not me."

Lifting the envelope, you seek out a place to read the contents, maybe someplace with a little privacy. You open the envelope to see that a request for investigation ("RI") has been filed against you. You probably recognize the name of the Complainant and suddenly, all the thoughts of the case you handled involving this person start to rush back. Chances are you experience a surge of emotion. What now?

If you have experienced anything like this, you know the feelings. Maybe you found this post because you have just received your envelope, or worse yet, you found it because the envelope has sat there waiting for you to do something. Well, the envelope is not going away. It needs you to take action, but what action?  You need some help. After all, the Model Rules Of Professional Responsibility were something you once studied. If you are like most lawyers, you have not looked at the rules in months, or even years. All that time and now you are thrust back into the rules, the traps and pitfalls that await if you are not very careful…and the clock is ticking.

You have to act, and - as the letter says - within 21 days. Your response is required to meet the procedures and criteria outlined by MCR 9.113. Your response must be in duplicate, and it must "fully and fairly" disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to the alleged misconduct MCR 9.113 (A).

  •  You must provide your answer in duplicate.
  •  Misrepresentation in your answer is grounds for discipline.
  •  Your signature serves as verification that you have read the document.
  •  In most cases, a copy of your reply will be provided to the Complainant.
  •  Refusal or failure to answer is governed by MCR 9.113 (B).
  •  An unjustified failure to answer is itself, misconduct MCR 2.113 (B)(2).

Of course you have to respond. Your response, timely, proper, and conforming to the rules is essential. How essential? Your livelihood and status as a licensed attorney depends on it. Before you draft and send your response, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I know enough to conform to all the rules that I am required to follow?
  2. Do I know enough about the process to prepare myself and protect myself?
  3. Do I really know what I have riding on my response?
  4. Can you really maintain the objectivity you need to advise yourself and how much will your emotions play in drafting your response.

If the answers to these questions are not clearly in your favor, then you need to seek help of someone who can help you. The old saying that "a lawyer who represents himself/herself has a fool for a client" isn't an "old saying" for nothing…and it may lead you to the best decision of your career.

Posted on September 9, 2014 and filed under Attorney Grievance.