Attorneys in Transition: Responding to ARDC inquiry letters

Nick Augustine is the principal of Augustine Legal PR and he helps law firms and their staffs attract more clients and tell their stories about the legal industry. Nick’s marketing, advertising and media team helps attorneys share their knowledge, skills and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active Alumni Board member.

Do you see the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission as a friend or foe? Law schools teach us the rules of professional responsibility and how to avoid running afoul of the rules. Experience teaches us that despite your best efforts, ARDC inquiry letters might cross your desk. The commission has commented that most of their inquiries regard criminal and family law attorneys. Learn some tips on helping the ARDC do their job as they must process all the complaints they receive.

I learned all about the ARDC in professional responsibility classes in law school. My professor focused on best practices to guard against ethics problems. What I don’t recall learning was how frequently complaints were made by angry clients and gamesman opponents.

The ARDC rules require activity on all complaints. When the commission sends an attorney an inquiry letter, there is a deadline to respond. When I interviewed ARDC Litigation Manager Melissa Smart on Law Talk Radio, she stressed the importance of communicating with the ARDC, whose staff is good about granting extensions of time to respond, when necessary. The worst thing you can do is ignore a letter from the ARDC.

Changing perceptions of the ARDC has been a commission trend as they continue offering Minimum Continuing Legal Education options and education on how to use social media ethically within the Rules of Professional Conduct. The telephone hotline is there for attorneys who want to ask an anonymous question if the need arises.

One tip to protect you is bill early and often. If your time records indicate the nature and purpose of all your work, then it may be easier to respond to a question about what occurred on a specific instance. Keeping good records should reduce anxiety about answering an ARDC letter.

Sometimes clients angry about their bill or opposing counsel who want to win at any cost will make ARDC complaints against an attorney as an offensive tactic. While I have never asked, I am sure the staff at the ARDC can sniff out the legitimate complaints and detect gamesmanship. Having said that, if someone complains that the attorney may be violating a rule, the commission is duty bound to follow up. There are attorneys who focus in ARDC litigation and if you receive a letter warranting professional advice, make the call. There are several helpful tips and resources on the ARDC website.

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