Support group may help lawyers being investigated by BBO

Issue September 2003

Q:This may be a different kind of question from your usual clinically oriented Q&A's, which I've found interesting and helpful. Over the years, in an attempt to expand my revenue base, I have taken on some cases that were a "stretch" in terms of my experience and expertise.

Although I never did anything unethical involving client funds, etc., I have not always managed these cases as well as I would have liked, and some clients complained to the BBO. I avoided opening a letter from the BBO, and when I did I found that I had missed a deadline to respond.

Now my anxiety is through the roof. I expect more trouble because of my delay, but feel paralyzed to respond and have not been able to tell anyone about it, including my family. What do I do?

A:Thank you for this question, which captures the kind of crisis faced by many lawyers who call upon us. You are certainly not alone, especially in your fearful and avoidant response to mail with a return address marked "BBO."

Just as avoidance and procrastination in your practice increase the chances of client complaints, they also work against you in dealing with investigative and disciplinary matters. Although we are clinicians, and thus unable to give you legal advice, most of your peers with whom we have spoken recommend strongly that you have representation in dealing with the BBO, ideally a lawyer familiar with BBO proceedings. (If you cannot find or afford an appropriate attorney, we can put you in touch with someone who will find one for you.) Whether directly or through that lawyer, it would be more constructive to contact BBO bar counsel to address the missed deadline than to continue to wait and see what happens.

We encourage you, as well, to come to LCL for an assessment that might lead to other useful ideas. One of these might be our confidential group (at no cost) for lawyers who, like yourself, are involved in the BBO investigative/disciplinary process. The group addresses some of the issues you raised, such as isolation, shame, guilt, anger and fear-ridden reactions to interactions with the BBO itself. Group members also examine the underlying issues that left them vulnerable to client complaints or poor practice management in the first place. Participants have found the group helpful for support, information and motivation.