Attorney Discipline Overview

In the State of New York, the power to discipline attorneys is vested in the Appellate Divisions of the State Supreme Court pursuant to §90 of the Judiciary Law. The Departmental Disciplinary and Grievance Committees were established by the Courts to investigate and prosecute allegations of attorney misconduct.

When a written complaint is received by one of these committees and the allegations against you are deemed sufficient to at least warrant an answer, you will receive a letter from them asking for a response.

How you answer that complaint is critical.

As noted, 90 percent of these complaints are found to be without merit; and a well-crafted, thoughtful, and direct response will often end a formal investigation in its very early stages.
But a misstep here, such as succumbing to the natural temptation an individual might have to attack the complainant, can bring even an attorney with "clean hands" further investigation and the potential for unwanted consequences.

This is why having an experienced disciplinary defense attorney represent you in these matters is essential. Your attorney acts as a buffer between you and the grievance committee - a buffer that prevents you from inadvertently expanding the scope of the issues involved and from disclosing unnecessary information.

In cases that go beyond the initial answer to the complaint, it may then become prudent to concede that this or that could have been done better or more diligently, but that the infraction is a minor one. In many cases the committee will agree, and the attorney will accept a minor admonition or reprimand without any further penalty or public disclosure.

Lastly, in cases where it becomes evident that the disciplinary committee is likely to find the attorney guilty of more than just a minor infraction, potentially mitigating or aggravating circumstances need to be considered by the respondent's attorney and careful attention must be given as to how these factors ought to be framed in a light most favorable to the client.

At this point in the process, some attorneys simply choose to resign and voluntarily give up their practice of law. This is essentially a no-contest proceeding and the attorney is then disbarred on consent. In other situations, the nature of the infraction and its mitigating factors may lend reasonable hope for censure or suspension rather than disbarment.

In any event, when an attorney has been accused of serious professional and ethical misconduct, including an allegation of legal malpractice, retaining the services of an attorney who is experienced and dedicated to handling disciplinary matters is imperative. Contact Nicholas C. Cooper to discuss your situation today.