Authors have always undergone abridgement. Reductions of great works still thrive in the publishing industry today, often under titles such as “Compact Editions.” A spokesman for one such recent British series was quoted as saying, “Moby-Dick must have been difficult in 1850–in 2007; it’s nigh-on impossible to make your way through it.” Yet the danger is cutting too much blubber out of Moby-Dick is that of being left with no whale. – Sarah Bakewell, How to Live, Or, A Life of Montaigne
And that is the key to writing an official grievance against a lawyer: remember that you’re not writing Moby-Dick.
I’m a writer. I’ve been doing it for many years. I can write fancy-schmancy stuff, yes. But I am most proud of having taught myself to write simply. And simple, straightforward writing is what you must do in your complaint.
Think of yourself as a reporter. You are going to lay out of the facts of a story, without embellishing adjectives. It’s the Compact Edition, without emotion, without outbursts. For this purpose, it is not your personal story; it is just a story. The Committee investigating your matter doesn’t care how you feel about how your lawyer has offended you. They care about how and when your lawyer has offended you. Just the facts.
Let’s try a sentence of a grievance story, as an example.The first example is the way you don’t want to write it:
I keep calling, e-mailing and writing my lousy lawyers to find out what’s going on with my case and they never get back to me. I’m going crazy and my family is getting very worried about my mental health.
Here’s how to write it:
On the dates that follow, I have telephoned or e-mailed my lawyers with specific questions about the status of my case or to ask for their instructions, but have received no response: 6/2/2011; 6/6/2011; 6/10/2011; 7/13/2011; 9/16/2011; 1/5/2012; 1/19/2012; 2/29/2012; 3/15/2012.
Of course, you’ve taken my advice about maintaining your time line/chronology, so you can easily cite these dates. (You have, haven’t you?)
The point is obvious: you don’t need to exaggerate or embroider. If you’ve got a genuine grievance (previous posts advised you how to find out whether you have a genuine grievance), only the facts are important.
Here’s the beginning of the actual complaint I was going to file against Shmucksky, the lawyer/advisor. [I’ve blanked out names and certain details.] The first sentence is the instruction given by, in this case, the Third Department, where Shmucksky was registered as a lawyer (each Department has a slightly different instruction):
(Please indicate below the exact aggrieved acts and explain in detail all facts, dates, and events which are relevant. Continue on reverse side if necessary.)
At 10 am on Monday, April 20, 2009, [name] and I appeared at the office of attorney [Shmucksky], who does business as a [blank] adviser under the names of [blank] and [blank]. (Attached as Exhibit 1 are pages from [Smucksky]’s website; pages from his SEC application for [type of] registration; and NYS Unified Court System attorney detail noting Mr. [Shmucksky]’s registration number.)
We had not requested this meeting and were not Mr. [Shmucksky]’s clients. [We] were there at the insistence of [name], who is Mr. [Shmucksky]’s client.
For the past year – since becoming a client of Mr. [Shmucksky] – [name] had been expressing dissatisfaction with the management of a [financial entity] established by [a named person’s] will and instituted after his death in 1988.
I continued, describing in calm detail, first, enough of the background leading to that meeting so that anyone who read my description would be able to follow it. Then I narrated what happened during that meeting. I quoted Shmucksky directly when I was able to — when he threatened the person I was with.
Then, I drew a line across the page and wrote this:
I have read the New York State Unified Court System’s Rules of Professional Conduct (April 1, 2009). I believe Mr. Shmucksky has violated several of the Rules:
I copied into the document the Rules I had pulled from the Rules of Professional Conduct, and followed each citation with my own consideration of why Shmucksky had violated that rule.
I really liked what I’d done. I still do; I read it anew and got mad all over again. Although, as I said, I never filed it.
Next: How to file a grievance against your lawyer. Part 3