Frequently Asked Questions

1.  What is the Office of Disciplinary Counsel?


ODC performs central intake functions and processes, investigates and prosecutes complaints against lawyers licensed within Montana. Disciplinary Counsel are appointed and supervised by the Supreme Court. 


2.  What are the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct?


The Montana Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) are the rules that govern the ethical conduct of all attorneys in the State of Montana. A grievance lodged with ODC alleges violations of these Rules.


3.  Are there rules governing ODC?


The Montana Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (MRLDE) govern ODC and the lawyer disciplinary process. These Rules explain how a complaint is filed, what ODC is required to do, how attorneys cooperate with ODC and the Commission on Practice, and how attorney disciplinary is imposed. 


4.  What is the Commission on Practice?

  

The Commission on Practice (COP) is a panel of nine lawyers and five non-lawyers. These members are appointed and under direct supervision of the Supreme Court. These are volunteer members who grant ODC leave to file a formal Complaint with the Court and hear disciplinary cases. The COP can make recommendations to the Court for attorney discipline. 


5.  How do I file a grievance against an attorney?

  

The attorney must be licensed to practice in Montana to file a grievance. Your grievance must be submitted in writing and include a detailed explanation of the reasons you believe the attorney has committed misconduct. Include as much factual data as possible (i.e., dates, names, phone numbers, amounts of money involved, witnesses, etc.). Attach copies of any documents or correspondence that will help explain your complaint -do not send any original documents. If more information is needed, we will contact you.


6.  Does filing a grievance cost money?


There is no fee for filing a grievance with our office. If you submit your grievance to ODC and thereafter request copies of the file, you will be charged a copy cost. Our charge for copying documents is $25 for 50 pages or less, or for more than 50 pages, 25¢ per page, plus an administrative fee of $25. We will not duplicate the material until the charge is paid in full. 


7.  What is attorney misconduct?

  

Attorney misconduct is any violation of the MRPC. Some examples of things that may not constitute violations of the Rules, though they may be irritating to the client, include, but are not limited to, the following:


  1.  Losing a lawsuit;
  2.  Not fulfilling a client’s expectations;
  3.  Making an unintentional error in preparing a document; and
  4. Personality conflicts between a lawyer and client. 

It may be that what the lawyer has done, or failed to do, constitutes malpractice but may not be a Rule violation. In that event, the client should consult with another lawyer about pursuing a claim for malpractice. Some examples of unethical conduct that violate the MRPC, include, but are not limited to, the following:


  1.  Conflicts of interest;
  2.  Intentionally failing to keep a client reasonably informed of the status of the client’s matter;
  3. Misappropriation of client funds; and
  4. Other forms of dishonesty, fraud, or deceit. 

8.  Is there a time limit to file a grievance?


With certain exceptions, a formal Complaint must be filed within six years from the date the alleged misconduct was discovered or should have been discovered. This means your grievance should be lodged with ODC as soon as practicable, but not later than six years from the date of the alleged misconduct. 


9.  What is a formal Complaint?


 A formal Complaint is a Complaint filed by ODC with the Court, typically after a grievance has been lodged. The Court is the only entity that may discipline a lawyer for ethical misconduct. These Complaints are public record and can be found on the Court’s online docket. You may find the link on our Resources page. 


10.  What happens after my grievance is filed?


When a grievance is received, it is reviewed by the ODC to determine if a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is stated. You will receive a letter from our office informing you:

  1. The complaint does not appear to involve conduct that is within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Court; 
  2. More information is needed; 
  3. An investigation has been initiated; or,
  4. That the matter is dismissed because, on its face, does not warrant disciplinary action. 

If an investigation is initiated, the attorney will receive a copy of the complaint and he/she is required to respond in writing to the allegations. 


11.  Can I appeal the decision?

  

If you feel Disciplinary Counsel’s dismissal of your complaint was in error, you may file a written request, within 30 days, to have the decision reviewed by a Review Panel of the COP. If a Review Panel affirms ODC’s dismissal, you may make a request to the COP, in writing within 35 days of the date notice was sent, for the Supreme Court to review the disposition.  The Supreme Court may, in its sole discretion, review the Panel’s disposition.


12.  Do the ODC and COP have jurisdiction over legal matter?


No. ODC and COP only have jurisdiction over violations of the MRPC. ODC and COP cannot handle matters that involve legal malpractice. 


13.  How long does it take to resolve a grievance?

  

Each case varies according to its complexity. Cases that are complex or involve the filing of formal charges will take longer. We make every effort to see that the disposition of each complaint is handled as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.


14.  What if I feel my attorney's fees are too high?


Fee matters are not generally a basis for discipline because they usually do not involve questions of ethics or professional misconduct. If you feel that your attorney’s fees are too high, you may wish to enter into FEE ARBITRATION. Please contact the Montana State Bar for more information on this procedure, or find the link on the Resources page.


15.  Can I recoup any of my costs after the lawyer was disciplined?


The Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection has been created to compensate clients for all or part of any losses caused by the dishonest conduct of a lawyer admitted to practice in Montana. Under the program, fees are paid by all lawyers throughout the state to assist in compensating members of the public for a Montana lawyer’s dishonest conduct when the claimant has no other recourse to recoup the loss. Malpractice is not necessarily dishonest conduct, and the distribution of funds is limited to victims of dishonest actions. If you feel you may qualify, contact the Montana State Bar for further information about the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. Also, on our Resources


16.  My lawyer has discriminated against me. Can ODC help me?


A grievance alleging discrimination is better suited before the Human Rights Bureau which addresses complaints of discrimination on age, sex, gender, race, and more. If your grievance is solely in relation to a human rights violation, your complaint is better suited before the bureau. Click here for more information.


17.  My case is still pending, can ODC represent me or refer me to a lawyer?


ODC is prohibited by the RLDE from giving any legal or ethical advice. We are not permitted to represent you or interject into pending litigation. You may visit the Self Help Law Center to find information which may help you.


If you feel that you have been monetarily damaged by your attorney’s actions on your case or if you feel you may have some legal recourse, you should consider discussing the matter with private legal counsel.