Frequently Asked Questions About Lawyers
A list of frequently asked questions about lawyers for the public.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I go about choosing a lawyer?
Answer: Selecting an attorney to represent you is an important decision. Read our dedicated "Selecting an Iowa Lawyer" guide for guidance.
Question: My attorney won't return my phone calls-what can I do about it?
Answer: You can call the Iowa Board of Professional Ethics at (515) 725-8017. They will help you work out a solution with your lawyer. You can access attorney discipline information on-line
Question: How do I file a complaint against my lawyer?
Answer: Again, you can call the Iowa Board of Professional Ethics at (515) 725-8017. Attorney Discipline information is available on-line. To access an Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board Complaint Form, click here.
Question: Help, I need a lawyer! Whom do you recommend?
Answer: The ISBA offers a FIND-A- LAWYER Service to assist you in finding an attorney. Please visit www.iowafindalawyer.com for more information.
You may want to use another method to find an attorney in Iowa:
- Martindale-Hubbell Law Directories: You can find these directories at your library or search online at www.martindale.com. This directory lists Iowa attorneys, their addresses and phone numbers, and their specialties.
- Yellow Pages: Look under "attorneys."
Question: How do I find out if a particular attorney is licensed to practice law in Iowa?
Answer: Contact the Clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court's office at (515) 281-5911.
Question: Where can I find an attorney who is licensed to practice in Iowa and in another jurisdiction?
Answer: You can call the bar association of the other jurisdiction or you can find that information in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directories. You can find these directories at your library or search online at www.martindale.com.
Question: Where can I get free/inexpensive legal advice?
Answer: Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income residents of Iowa through ten regional offices. To find the regional office that serves your county go to the "low Income Assistance" page of this website or visit Iowa Legal Aid"s website at www.iowalegalaid.org. You may also call 1-800-532-1275 or 515-243- 2151 to reach the Administrative Office of Iowa Legal Aid.
Individuals must meet income and asset guidelines and only civil law cases are handled; no criminal cases are handled by Iowa Legal Aid. Because of limited resources, only certain types of civil law problems are able to be handled.
Question: How many attorneys are licensed to practice in Iowa?
Answer: The Iowa State Bar Association has about 7,500 members but that does not represent all of the licensed attorneys in Iowa. For those figures, call the Clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court's office at (515)-281-5911.
Possible Ethical Problems
Lawyers are expected to meet high professional standards which are set forth in rules adopted by the Iowa Supreme Court. If a lawyer violates an ethical rule, the lawyer may be disciplined.
Some problems with lawyers are properly the subject of a complaint of ethical violation to the Attorney Disciplinary Board. Others are not. Here are a few examples of complaints handled by the Board:
Neglect and Delay
Do you think your lawyer has been taking too long with your legal matter? Write to your lawyer and ask for a written explanation. If you do not get a satisfactory reply, you may file a complaint. Lawyers are required to be reasonably prompt and to keep clients reasonably informed.
Money and Accounting
Sometimes lawyers handle money for clients. The lawyer must promptly and completely account for a client’s money. If there is any significant delay in receiving money from a lawyer or in getting a complete accounting, a complaint can be filed.
Conflicts of Interest
A lawyer owes a client his undivided loyalty, unburdened by the interests of other clients or the lawyer’s own personal interest. A lawyer should not represent more than one client in a matter unless both consent after full disclosure by the lawyer. If you believe that your lawyer is acting improperly in representing conflicting interests, you may file a complaint.
Lawyers are forbidden to make intentionally false statements, either to their own clients or to others. If you believe your lawyer has lied to you, such as to cover up his neglect of your matter, you may file a complaint. Lawyers may represent their clients’ interests aggressively, which may involve relying on the clients’ version of the facts. In lawsuits, most disputes about the facts are resolved by the courts.
Though it is unethical for a lawyer to charge a clearly excessive fee, the Board cannot resolve a fee dispute. A fee dispute usually does not involve ethics but is a legal dispute that must be resolved in the court by the application of basic principles of contract law. Fee arbitration is an alternative method of resolving a fee dispute. Though not every local county bar association has a fee arbitration committee, your local bar association can be contacted to determine if it does have one or can create one to which your fee dispute can be submitted.
Malpractice, or Professional Negligence
Lawyers, like other professionals, sometimes make mistakes. A lawyer might handle a matter in a way that is inadequate but not unethical. If a client is damaged by a lawyer’s negligence, another lawyer should be consulted as to whether legal action should be brought in court. The Attorney Disciplinary Board has no jurisdiction of a negligence claim.
Most complaints that involve the behavior of an attorney outside the practice of law, such as rudeness, the use of profanity, landlord-tenant disputes and debtor-creditor matters generally are not professional ethics violations. However, serious matters, such as fraud or criminal offenses, may be subject to discipline.
The Opponent’s Lawyer
Can you complain against the other person’s lawyer? Sometimes, but such complaints often fail to understand our adversary system of justice. Lawyers must represent their own clients aggressively, and are usually entitled to rely on their client's version of the facts.
Such a system often produces different versions of the facts in lawsuits and a certain amount of hard feelings. Only flagrant abuses will result in discipline and usually after a court has ruled on the matter.
Prevent Problems With Your Lawyer
Many problems can be prevented if you know what to expect from lawyers and how to deal with lawyers. Suggestions for avoiding problems include:
Have Realistic Expectations
Some people are dissatisfied with lawyers because they have unrealistic expectations. Ask your lawyer what to expect. How long will the matter take? About how much will it cost? What are the unpredictable factors?
Furnish documents and information to your lawyer promptly. In return, expect the lawyer to keep you informed and to give you copies of important documents.
If you change your address or phone number, let your lawyer know. If you change your mind about the legal matter, keep the lawyer informed.
Expect your lawyer to keep you informed of all important developments. If you are dissatisfied, let your lawyer know why. Write to confirm all important understandings.
Make sure you have an agreement as to your lawyer’s fees, in writing if possible.