chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
July 16, 2020

Rule 1

Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement

  1. Component Agencies. There is hereby established a comprehensive system of regulation of the legal profession that includes, but is not limited to a lawyer discipline and disability system, a client protection fund, mandatory arbitration of fee disputes, voluntary arbitration of lawyer malpractice claims and other disputes, mediation, lawyer practice assistance, and lawyer substance abuse counseling.

  2. Central Intake. There is hereby established a central intake office, which shall:

    (1) receive information and complaints regarding the conduct of lawyers over whom the court has jurisdiction, provided this rule shall not be construed to limit the authority of any authorized agency to institute proceedings;
    (2) provide assistance to complainants in stating their complaints;
    (3) provide information to complainants about the remedies available under the rules of the court, the operations and procedures of agencies designated by the court under Rule 1(A), and the status of their complaints;
    (4) determine whether the facts stated in a complaint or other information regarding the conduct of a lawyer provide grounds for further action by any agency designated by the court under Rule 1(A) and:

    (a) dismiss the complaint; or
    (b) forward it to the appropriate agency or agencies;

    (5) provide to the complainant, if a complaint is dismissed or referred to an agency other than the disciplinary agency:

    (a) a copy of the written guidelines for dismissal of complaints;
    (b) a concise written statement of the facts and reasons for referral of the complaint to an agency other than the disciplinary agency; and
    (c) a notice of complainant's right of appeal pursuant to Rule 31; and

    (6) record and, when a complaint involves more than one agency, coordinate the processing and disposition of all complaints by designated agencies.

    [C.  Disciplinary Districts. Disciplinary jurisdiction in this state shall be divided into the following districts: If necessary, provisions dividing the state into two or more disciplinary districts].


A simple and direct procedure for making a complaint is needed. Complainants should not be expected to know the distinctions among component agencies. They need a central intake office one clearly designated agency to which to take any type of complaint regarding lawyer conduct. A toll free telephone number for the central intake office should be publicized. The staff of the central intake office should process all inquiries, regardless of the source or manner in which received and notwithstanding the authority of disciplinary counsel to receive such inquiries and to refer them to the central intake office. The skilled lawyers of this office should provide the expertise needed to determine where prima facie valid complaints should be directed and make timely referrals to appropriate agencies. This also emphasizes the importance of accountability.

Providing a regulatory system to deter unethical behavior should remain the highest priority of the judicial branch. The central intake office should screen all complaints for allegations of conduct that is a ground for discipline under Rule 9. It should forward those complaints to the disciplinary agency and to any other relevant agency, so that misconduct is not overlooked. Under established guidelines, the central intake office should inform inquirers of additional available programs and agencies. When appropriate, a letter and other written materials should be sent to the inquirer. Such materials might include application forms and brochures about the various programs. Typically, the central intake office will decide which referral will be most appropriate and transfer a caller to it and then send a confirming letter and any additional information.

The central intake office should inform each component agency to which an inquiry is referred of additional referrals made. At a minimum, each agency to which the matter is referred should receive a copy of the letter sent to the inquirer by the central intake office so that the component agencies can monitor the appropriateness of the referrals and provide feedback and training. Lawyer discipline should be directly and exclusively controlled by the highest court in the jurisdiction. However, it may be appropriate for bar associations to administer other components of the system, such as arbitration, mediation, lawyer practice assistance, etc., under the court's authority. Therefore, the disciplinary agency should not be the administrative entity for other component agencies.

A fee dispute arbitration system that is mandatory for the lawyer eliminates the overwhelming advantage lawyers have over the majority of clients who are of modest means and have only the most rudimentary knowledge of the law. These programs can work without being unduly burdensome on the profession. Complaints that do not state legitimate grounds for dispute should be screened out. In cases of valid disputes, mandated fee adjustments can provide the incentive to reform for lawyers who do substandard work.

Providing an additional, voluntary arbitration mechanism for lawyers and clients can greatly benefit both lawyers and clients. Disputes to be considered could include contractual, non-disciplinary, and inadequate representation claims.

Mediation services are useful in preserving ongoing lawyer-client relationships when disputes arise or in matters where a lawyer has placed a lien on a client's file. When handled by a skilled mediator, the process can be simple and efficient, saving time and money for both parties. The lawyer's willingness to have a third party assist in resolving the dispute can demonstrate to the client that the lawyer's intention is to act in the client's best interest.


Table of Contents

Center for Professional Responsibility