File a Complaint
One of the ARDC’s main purposes is to assist the Supreme Court in determining lawyers’ fitness to practice law in Illinois. To this end, we investigate complaints alleging illegal, unethical and dishonest conduct by lawyers and, if warranted, bring formal disciplinary charges. The Supreme Court of Illinois ultimately decides if a lawyer should be censured (publicly rebuked), suspended (having the law license to practice either taken away for a certain period of time or placed on a probationary period) or disbarred (having the law license taken away indefinitely).
The ARDC has representatives available at both our Chicago and Springfield offices during regular business hours to respond to telephone inquiries and to meet with members of the public by appointment. Our representatives cannot provide legal advice or assistance, but are able to answer questions relating to the ARDC’s operations, to discuss ways of addressing problems with lawyers, and to provide referrals to other agencies and resources.
Should I File a Complaint?
Accusing a lawyer of unethical conduct is a serious matter to the lawyer. Complaints should not be made lightly or to try to gain an advantage in dealings with a lawyer. If you are considering filing a complaint, understand that the ARDC will send a copy of your complaint to the lawyer whether or not we decide to initiate an investigation. Additionally, we recommend that, whenever practical, you try to resolve problems that do not concern claims of unethical conduct directly with the lawyer. For instance, if your lawyer is not responding to your calls or emails, consider sending the lawyer a formal letter by postal mail, requesting that the attorney contact you within a specified period of time. If you are not sure whether your concerns involve unethical conduct or whether you should file a complaint, you may call our office to discuss the matter with a member of our staff.
If I lost money because of my lawyer, can I get it back?
If the ARDC’s investigation shows that your lawyer wrongfully took money or property from you, and if this is proven in a formal disciplinary case against the lawyer, the discipline imposed may include a requirement that the lawyer make restitution to you. Also, the ARDC’s Client Protection Program may reimburse all or part of a loss caused by a lawyer’s wrongful taking of money or property if the lawyer has been disciplined or is deceased.
A complaint to the ARDC will not result in financial compensation for losses resulting from poor representation or professional negligence by lawyers. Such compensation may be available through a civil malpractice lawsuit. There are legal time limits for filing such lawsuits. If you are considering a lawsuit, you should seek legal advice immediately.
The propriety of a lawyer’s fee depends both on the agreement between the lawyer and the client, and on certain limitations under the ethics rules. We may initiate an investigation into a lawyer’s fee if the fee charged or the fee agreement is improper under the ethics rules, violates a court order or statute, is fraudulent, or results in the lawyer keeping a fee paid in advance that was not earned. Many fee-related complaints, however, stem from general dissatisfaction with the amount of fees charged for legal services that may not have achieved the client’s legal objectives. These situations ordinarily do not provide a basis for possible disciplinary charges. Where such fee disputes cannot be resolved informally between the lawyer and client, they may be resolved through court action. Additionally, some bar associations in Illinois provide voluntary fee arbitration services. The following is a list of some of the Illinois bar associations that provide fee arbitration services for lawyers and clients in their areas:
Chicago Bar Association
Committee on Professional Fees
321 South Plymouth Court
Chicago, IL 60604
DuPage County Bar Association
126 South County Farm Road
Wheaton, IL 60187
Peoria County Bar Association
411 Hamilton Boulevard, Suite 1618
Peoria, IL 61602
Kane County Bar Association
555 S. Randall Road, Suite 205
St. Charles, IL 60174
Bureau County Bar Association
(Bureau County residents and lawyers only)
10 Park Ave. West
Princeton, IL 61356
If you are not in one of the above areas, you may wish to inquire with your local bar association regarding the availability of fee arbitration services.
Criminal behavior by a lawyer
The ARDC can only affect a lawyer's ability to practice law in Illinois. The Commission cannot bring criminal charges or impose criminal penalties against lawyers. If a lawyer has committed a crime, a report can be made to the police, State’s Attorney or other agency with the authority to enforce criminal statutes.
Complaints about judges
The ARDC generally does not investigate complaints of judicial misconduct by state court judges. Such complaints should be directed to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, 100 W. Randolph Drive, Suite 14-500, Chicago, IL 60601; Telephone: (312) 814-5554 or (800) 227-9429; Fax: (312) 814-5719; Website: www.state.il.us/jib. For information about how to complain about a federal court judge, contact the office of the Clerk of the Court for the judicial circuit in which the judge sits.
Information about Filing a Complaint
How do I file a complaint?
Complaint forms may be submitted by email, by postal mail, or by facsimile to:
130 E. Randolph Dr., Ste. 1500
Chicago, IL 60601-6219
Fax: (312) 565-2320
3161 W. White Oaks Dr., Ste. 301
Springfield, IL 62704
Fax: (217) 546-3785
There is no requirement that complaints be submitted using the ARDC’s complaint form. The ARDC will consider written complaints submitted in letter form.
What should I put in my complaint?
Your complaint should include as much of the following as possible:
- Your name, address, telephone number, and email address, and the full name, address, telephone number, and email address of the lawyer or other person you are complaining about;
- Information about your relationship to the lawyer, including whether the lawyer was or is your attorney;
- If the lawyer was or is your attorney, information about when the representation started, any fee agreement, and the amount of any fees paid to the lawyer as of the date of your complaint;
- Information about related court cases, including case names, docket numbers and the names/locations of the courts;
- A description of what the lawyer did or did not do that you think was improper; and
- Copies of any documents or records that support your complaint, such as fee agreements, receipts, letters and court papers.
If I have questions or need help filing my complaint, can I talk to someone at the ARDC?
Yes. If you have questions that are not answered here, you may call our Chicago ((312) 565-2600) or Springfield ((217) 546-3523) offices to speak with a member of our staff.
Is there a fee or cost to file a complaint?
No. There is no fee or cost to you.
What happens after I file my complaint?
Upon receipt of your complaint, we will open a file and assign it a number. The complaint will then be reviewed by a Commission lawyer who will decide whether there is a basis for us to investigate. We generally will notify you in writing of our decision whether to investigate within two weeks. If we decide that there is not a sufficient basis for us to investigate, our letter to you will explain the reasons for our decision. We will provide the lawyer with a copy of your complaint even if we decide not to investigate.
What happens if the ARDC decides to investigate my complaint?
If we decide to investigate your complaint, we will advise you of our decision and, in most instances, will send the lawyer a copy of your complaint with a letter asking the lawyer to submit a written response. Typically, the lawyer will send a response within two to four weeks. We may send a copy of the lawyer’s response to you for comment. Thereafter, we may seek additional information and documents from you, from the lawyer, from other witnesses, or from entities with pertinent information, such as banks or insurance companies.
How long does an investigation take?
The time it takes to complete an investigation varies greatly depending on the complexity of the issues, the amount of information and documents requiring review, whether the lawyer and other witnesses cooperate with our investigation, and whether we need to obtain information or documentation from courts, banks, insurance companies or other entities. Most ARDC investigations are concluded within 90 days of our receipt of a complaint, but some investigations may take a significantly longer period of time to be completed.
What are the possible outcomes of an ARDC investigation?
After the necessary factual information has been obtained, we will determine whether there is evidence of professional misconduct by the lawyer warranting disciplinary action. If so, we will pursue formal disciplinary charges before the ARDC’s Inquiry Board and Hearing Board in accordance with Commission and Supreme Court rules. This process may involve a trial before a panel of Hearing officers, and subsequent reviews by the Commission’s Review Board and by the Illinois Supreme Court, which makes final decisions in lawyer disciplinary cases. The disciplinary sanctions that the Court can impose include disbarment, suspension for a specified time period, probation and censure (public rebuke).
If we conclude that formal disciplinary charges are not warranted, the investigation will be closed, and you will be notified of the closure decision and the reasons for that decision in writing. Many investigations are closed because there is insufficient evidence to establish misconduct by the lawyer warranting professional disciplinary sanctions. Investigations may also be closed when the evidence shows that the problem or dispute that caused the complaint has been resolved, or when the lawyer has agreed to complete a remedial or educational program or activity to address concerns identified during the investigation. Frequently, our closure decisions are based on multiple considerations, including our interpretation of applicable rules of professional conduct, our analysis of available information and evidence, our assessment of potential harm to the public, and our judgment on the appropriate use of ARDC resources.
Can I withdraw my complaint?
You may tell us at any time that you no longer wish to have the ARDC consider or pursue action based on your complaint. You should do this in writing and should explain your reasons. We will consider your request to withdraw your complaint in deciding what, if any, further action to take, but your request will not automatically stop our investigation. Although we encourage lawyers and clients to work together to resolve differences, lawyers are prohibited from entering into agreements requiring clients or former clients to withdraw ARDC complaints or to refuse to cooperate with the ARDC.
Can I appeal if the ARDC decides not to bring charges against the lawyer?
Supreme Court Rules do not provide for any appeal of ARDC decisions not to investigate or pursue formal charges against lawyers. You may, however, request that we reconsider a decision not to take further action and may submit additional information regarding a previously filed investigation request at any time.
Is there a time limit or statute of limitations for filing an ARDC complaint?
While there is no formal time limit or statute of limitations for complaints to the ARDC, the Commission can and does consider the age of alleged misconduct in determining whether and how to act on complaints. The passage of time can make it difficult or impossible to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute charges of misconduct against lawyers. Also, it may be difficult or impossible to establish that a lawyer is unfit for the practice of law by reason of conduct that occurred many years earlier.
Effect on Your Legal Rights
Can the ARDC give me advice or help me with my case?
The ARDC cannot provide you with legal advice or legal help, cannot take over your case, and cannot seek to overturn unfavorable rulings or court orders in your case. If you file a complaint, you remain responsible for taking action to protect your legal rights.
Can the ARDC remove or replace my lawyer?
The ARDC cannot remove or replace your lawyer. If you want to discharge your lawyer, you will need to do so directly, preferably in writing. The ARDC has no authority to appoint lawyers to represent individuals.
Can the ARDC help me find a lawyer?
The ARDC is not authorized to make lawyer referrals. Many bar associations have referral lists and will provide names of private attorneys practicing in certain areas of the law. Two of the larger bar association referral programs in Illinois are:
- Chicago Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, 321 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL 60604; Telephone: (312) 554-2001, TDD (312) 554-2055. Website: www.chicagobar.org. Referral attorneys are located in Chicago, Cook County suburbs or DuPage County.
- Illinois State Bar Association, P.O. Box 1330, Springfield, IL 62705-1330; Telephone: (217) 525-5297 or (800) 922 8757. Website: www.illinoislawyerfinder.com. Referral attorneys are located throughout Illinois.
Does my lawyer still represent me after I file a complaint?
Filing an ARDC complaint about your lawyer does not in itself end the lawyer-client relationship. If the matter for which you hired the lawyer still needs attention and you have not fired the lawyer or your lawyer has not withdrawn from representing you, you may continue to consult with your lawyer (or any other lawyer of your choosing) to ensure that your legal rights are protected. If you wish to end the representation, it is important that you communicate your decision to the lawyer directly, preferably in writing, and that you secure other representation if your legal matter still needs attention or resolution.
Can I be sued for complaining about a lawyer?
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 775 provides that any person who communicates to the ARDC a complaint concerning a lawyer or allegations concerning the unauthorized practice of law, shall be immune from civil liability which might result from the communication. This immunity, however, applies only to communications made to ARDC employees and board members.