What should you do if you receive official-looking certified mail from the State Bar that contains a Letter of Notice (LON) from the chair of the Grievance Committee?
1. Don’t panic. The LON is designed to give you a chance to respond to a grievance that has been filed against you. It does not necessarily mean that the State Bar believes that the grievance is well founded. Nor does it mean that the State Bar believes you have committed a disciplinary violation. The Grievance Committee, similar to a court considering a motion to dismiss, asks the lawyer to respond to any allegation that, if proven, would constitute a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
2. Don’t ignore the LON. Although you should not panic, you should take it seriously and respond within the indicated timeframe or request an extension of time to respond from the assigned deputy counsel in the State Bar’s Office of Counsel. A surprising number of attorneys make the mistake of failing to respond. Failure to respond is itself grounds for imposition of discipline. See N.C. R. Prof’l Cond. Rule 8.1(b). The Grievance Committee typically issues a public reprimand for failure to respond to a LON, even if it turns out there is no merit to the underlying grievance.
3. Seek Counsel. You can seek the assistance of counsel if you believe it would help you in responding to the LON.
4. Respond fully. Make sure you give a full and fair disclosure of the relevant facts. Include copies of pertinent documents. Do not include your entire client file unless every document in the file is truly necessary to a complete understanding of your response. Some lawyers make the mistake of failing to respond fully because they believe the grievance has no merit or because they resent spending the time to prepare a response. Sketchy or incomplete responses could cause the Grievance Committee to misunderstand the facts and to take action it might not have taken if presented with adequate information. A vague or incomplete response or a failure to respond fully to follow-up questions may itself be a violation of Rule 8.1.
To read a comprehensive explanation of the disciplinary process, please click here.