Want to Avoid Ethics Complaints? Follow These Three Service Tenets for Satisfied Clients

Unhappy clients often choose to file ethics complaints against their poor-performing lawyers. What leads to their unhappiness? It may come as a surprise, but most ethics complaints are not about incompetence. Instead, most complaints revolve around basic customer service expectations. They involve issues that, even without specific ethics rules in place, would make any reasonable person agree the lawyer should be disciplined.

Three Tenets of Customer Service That Will Keep Most Lawyers Out of Trouble

I submit to you that if you follow these three simple behaviors, you will avoid most potential ethics complaints:

  • Listen to what the client wants.
  • Don’t delay doing what the client wants.
  • Communicate with the client about your progress along the way.


When you agree to represent a client, it seems fairly obvious that you ought to know what the client is hiring you to do. For whatever reason, regulators felt the need to put these obvious obligations in writing.

ABA Model Rule 1.2, concerning “Scope of Representation,” states that “a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation.”

If you don’t listen to your client’s objectives, chances are good the client will not be happy with the end result. Further, you will not be happy when that client later files an ethics complaint.


The buzzword here is diligence.

Rule 1.3, titled “Diligence,” provides that a “lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence.”

You don’t need to be a lawyer to understand this statement. Just get it done. After all, that’s what you’ve been hired to do.


If you’re a movie buff, you’ll likely recall the famous remark by the prison guard to inmate Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Under Rule 1.4, titled “Communications,” lawyers have a duty not to fail in the area of communication. More specifically, lawyers must “keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter.”

You should not feel it a burden to keep your clients up to speed about the progress of their legal matters. They’ve hired you to do your job; let them know that you’re doing it.

Good Customer Service = Satisfied Clients

Following these three basic rules should keep you out of trouble. Moreover, your chances of having satisfied clients improve exponentially. And satisfied clients lead to more work from those clients, more referrals, and a stronger practice. Who doesn’t want that?

I’m a senior associate at a large law firm. I will be up for partner within the next year or two. The partners tell me my work is great, but the process of making partner at my firm is so secretive that I truly don’t know how good my chan…" Read the rest
– Associate, large Washington D.C. law firm

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