Professional Regulation

Considering a Complaint Against a Lawyer?

The Virginia State Bar (VSB) is genuinely concerned with your complaint. It will receive our full attention and be resolved as quickly as possible. We appreciate your concerns and value your assistance in our regulation of Virginia lawyers.

The VSB Intake Office will review your complaint to determine whether the information you provided describes attorney misconduct.

The VSB is sensitive to the possibility that a complaint might be motivated by opposition to the policies that public figures advocate. While we appreciate all information submitted to this office by concerned citizens, the disciplinary process is not a forum to review complaints against public figures involved in governmental affairs. The VSB cannot acknowledge cumulative complaints from members of the public who do not have direct, personal involvement in a matter.

How to File the Complaint:

The VSB encourages the public to submit complaints online.

If you have concerns regarding the conduct of a lawyer, you may submit a complaint to the VSB. Please carefully read the information contained on this page before proceeding with your complaint. Please include your email address and phone number on the complaint form. 

To obtain a copy of How to File a Complaint Against a Lawyer as a printed brochure, or if you need any more information about how to file, contact the VSB Intake Office at (804) 775-0570. Callers outside the 804-area code may dial toll free 1-866-548-0873 for a brochure. 

Note: The Intake Office cannot discuss the details of your complaint with you over the telephone.
 

Your Complaint Must Be in Writing

There are two ways to file:

1. Download and open the complaint form (PDF file) in Adobe Acrobat to fill it out. (PREFERRED) Using your email software, send the completed PDF file as an attachment to webintake@vsb.org or mail it. (Do not use Adobe’s Share File option.); or

2. Write a simple letter explaining the situation that you think indicates a lawyer’s unethical behavior. The letter must contain:

  • Your full name, mailing address, email address, and telephone numbers;
  • The lawyer’s full name and address. (We cannot accept complaints about law firms, only individual lawyers);
  • A brief but complete description of the facts explaining your situation; and
  • Your signature.

*If you experience any technical problems submitting your PDF complaint, please email webintake@vsb.org.

Mail the letter to: Intake Office, 1111 East Main, Suite 700, Richmond, VA 23219-0026

Please DO NOT send original documents to the VSB, only copies. Keep all your original documents until your complaint has been resolved. Remove personally identifying information such as Social Security numbers, date of birth, driver's license numbers, etc. from your documents.

All documents we receive will be destroyed, in keeping with the VSB’s records and destruction policies.

 
Should you make a complaint?

Complaints should not be made lightly or to try to gain an advantage in your dealings with a lawyer. Filing a complaint should not take the place of communicating with the lawyer to resolve differences.

Your problem might be the result of some misunderstanding. Tell your lawyer why you are dissatisfied and ask for a full explanation of what is bothering you.

If you made a sincere effort to solve your problem but believe that the lawyer should be disciplined for his or her conduct, then make a complaint. If the lawyer is found to have violated an ethics rule, the VSB will discipline the lawyer. 
 

What the disciplinary process cannot do:

The VSB recognizes that people have many kinds of dealings with lawyers, but not all those situations are subject to review through the VSB’s disciplinary process.  

For example, the VSB will not open disciplinary cases on:

  1. Complaints about a lawyer’s fee.
    If you cannot resolve a fee dispute with your lawyer and wish to receive information about fee dispute resolution, you may want to contact the Virginia State Bar's Fee Dispute Coordinator. For a referral or a copy of the program rules, contact the Fee Dispute Resolution Coordinator at (804) 775-9423, or visit the fee disputes page.
  2. Dissatisfaction with the quality of a lawyer's advice or strategy.
    This applies to civil and criminal cases. The VSB does not investigate or discipline a lawyer solely on the quality of the lawyer’s advice or strategy. However, a lawyer may be investigated or disciplined for certain serious situations, such as missing important deadlines, failing to file required documents or abandoning a client's case.
  3. Rude behavior by an attorney.
  4. Complaints about judges in their judicial capacity.  Complaints about state court judges are handled by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission at P.O. Box 367, Richmond, Virginia, 23218-0367, telephone(804) 786-6636. For information about making an complaint about a federal court judge, contact: Clerk, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 1100 East Main Street, Room 501, Richmond, VA 23219-3517, telephone (804) 916-2700.
  5. Complaints against elected or appointed officials. The disciplinary process is not to be used as a procedural weapon to abrogate the authority of a governmental lawyer concerning legal matters within his or her sphere of authority.
  6. Complaints that lawyers acting as guardian ad litem or Commissioners in Chancery have taken positions with which you disagree. Such matters should be voiced to the judge that appointed the guardian ad litem or Commissioner in Chancery, as these persons report directly to the court and not to any particular client.
  7. Allegations that a guilty plea in a criminal case was not voluntary, unless the guilty plea has been overturned by a court.
  8. Allegations that a prosecutor prosecuted the wrong person or failed to prosecute a case.
  9. Civil disputes with a lawyer, such as the lawyer’s failure to pay a bill to someone who has provided goods or services directly to the lawyer, unless it appears that the lawyer improperly handled client funds. These matters should be handled through the civil justice system if they cannot be resolved informally with the lawyer.


Some complaints are opened to gather more information.

If your complaint does state a situation in which an ethics rule might have been violated, you and the lawyer about whom you complained will be notified that we have opened an active complaint file. A staff attorney in the Office of Bar Counsel will be assigned to the case.

If your complaint is opened as an active complaint file, you will receive information from the staff attorney explaining more about that process. You will be notified in writing about the outcome of our investigation.

Confidentiality

The Supreme Court of Virginia has adopted rules requiring that the disciplinary process be confidential unless the lawyer receives public discipline (admonition, public reprimand, suspension or revocation) or a matter is scheduled on the VSB’s public hearing docket maintained by the Clerk of the Disciplinary System. 

The confidentiality requirement means that the VSB cannot and will not discuss your complaint with anyone except you, the lawyer about whom you complain, people who might have information about your complaint, and other persons within the attorney disciplinary system. The VSB requests that you protect the confidentiality of the system by not discussing your complaint or our investigation with others.  

However, the confidentiality requirement will not protect you from a civil lawsuit by a lawyer who believes he or she has been wrongly accused. Virginia law controls this aspect of complaints against lawyers, and the VSB has no control over it. If you have concerns about this area of the law, you should consult a private lawyer for advice.

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Intake Office
Office of Bar Counsel
Virginia State Bar
1111 East Main Street, Suite 700
Richmond, Virginia 23219-0026
(804) 775-0570
Voice/TTY: 711 or (800) 828-1120
Callers outside the 804 area code may dial toll free 1-866-548-0873.
Updated: Nov 17, 2020