If you have received a Letter of Notice from the Grievance Committee of the North Carolina State Bar, you need to take it seriously. Even if you believe that the allegations contained in the letter are unfounded, you have a professional obligation to respond, and failure to respond is itself grounds for discipline under the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC).
However, absent a failure to respond, receiving a Letter of Notice is not necessarily a precursor to facing discipline from the Grievance Committee or a referral to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission (DHC). Many client grievances are unfounded, and in many cases attorneys will have sound defenses to what would otherwise be discipline-worthy allegations.
What is a Letter of Notice?
A Letter of Notice is exactly what it says it is – a letter that puts you on notice that a client has filed a grievance against you. It does not reflect the position of the Grievance Committee (other than its determination that the allegations, if proven, would constitute a violation of the RPC), and it does not mean that any disciplinary action is being taken against you. The Letter of Notice, essentially, is your opportunity to respond to the allegations before they go to the Grievance Committee for a determination of misconduct.
Responding to a Letter of Notice
You have fifteen days from the date of service to respond to a Letter of Notice. The response should contain, “a full and fair disclosure of all facts and circumstances pertaining to the alleged misconduct,” including copies of all relevant documents from the client’s file. If you need more than fifteen days (as is typically the case), you can request an extension, and as noted on the State Bar’s website, “extensions of time to respond are regularly granted.”
You are, of course, entitled to representation throughout the disciplinary process, and it will typically be in your best interests to hire an attorney who regularly practices in professional license defense. The more apt your response to the Letter of Notice, the greater your chances of securing a favorable resolution prior to full consideration by the Grievance Committee. If your response is incomplete, appears evasive, or raises more questions than it answers, the Grievance Committee is more likely to find probable cause to consider the grievance – and possibly open an investigation.
Potential Discipline Following a Letter of Notice
Upon considering a client’s grievance and the attorney’s response, the Grievance Committee can take a number of different actions. These include:
- Dismissal – If no discipline is warranted, the Grievance Committee can either dismiss the grievance entirely, or dismiss the grievance with a Letter of Caution or Letter of Warning. These letters identify unprofessional practices and technical or inadvertent violations of the RPC, but do not constitute professional discipline.
- Admonition – An admonition is the least-severe form of professional discipline. Admonitions remain private, though they can be considered in any additional future disciplinary matters.
- Reprimand and Censure – More severe than an admonition though still falling short of suspension or disbarment, reprimands and censures are reported to the state and federal courts and published in print (in the State Bar’s Journal magazine) and online (on the State Bar’s website).
- Referral to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission – If the Grievance Committee concludes that there is probable cause to issue discipline greater than reprimand and censure, it will refer the case to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission. DHC hearings can result in suspension and disbarment.
Contact a Raleigh Professional License Defense Attorney at Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC
The attorneys in our professional ethics and licensing defense section regularly represent other lawyers in North Carolina who have received Letters of Notice from the State Bar’s Grievance Committee. To discuss your response in confidence, call (919) 833-3114 or contact us online today.