Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program
What is the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP)?
The Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) is part of the Office of the Bar Counsel of the Board of Bar Overseers. ACAP is a source of assistance to people with questions or problems with their Massachusetts lawyer. When someone calls the Office of the Bar Counsel with a grievance concerning a lawyer, a member of the ACAP staff will respond promptly to that inquiry and attempt to identify the problem. Many problems can be resolved by providing information, calling the lawyer, or suggesting alternative ways of dealing with the dispute. A complaint form will be sent immediately where serious unethical conduct may be involved.
What can ACAP do?
What follows are some typical problems and what ACAP will do to help:
- "My lawyer will not return my telephone calls."
If the client wishes, ACAP will call the lawyer and ask the lawyer to contact the client. If the client does not wish ACAP to communicate with the lawyer, ACAP will make suggestions to the client for a self-help plan.
- "I do not think my lawyer is working on my case."
Where appropriate, ACAP will send a complaint form to the client. Where the problem appears to be short-term or involve a communication problem, ACAP will offer to call the lawyer for an update on the status of the case. If the client does not wish ACAP to contact the lawyer, ACAP will make suggestions to the client for a self-help plan.
- "My former lawyer will not release my files."
ACAP will call the lawyer to help obtain the release of any material to which the client is entitled.
- "Can my lawyer withdraw from my case?"
ACAP will discuss the limitations on a lawyer’s ability to withdraw and the steps the lawyer must take before doing so. ACAP will also refer the client to lawyer referral services when appropriate.
- "My lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel in my criminal case."
If the case is over, ACAP will generally advise the caller that the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel cannot assist with this claim, which should be decided by a court in the first instance. We will also refer the client to legal services that can assist in the filing of such a claim.
- "I want to file a complaint against the judge on my case."
ACAP will refer the caller to the Judicial Conduct Committee because the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of Bar Counsel do not have jurisdiction over complaints concerning judges.
- "My lawyer’s bill is too high."
Fee disputes, except in rare circumstances, are outside the jurisdiction of the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel. ACAP will attempt to clarify the fee arrangement for the client, urge the client to compare the bill to the work the client knows was accomplished, and suggest that the client write to or meet with the lawyer to attempt to resolve the dispute. The client may also be referred to fee arbitration.
- "I am afraid to fire my lawyer because I paid a fee in advance."
ACAP will explain that the lawyer is obligated to return the unearned portion of any retainer promptly. The client is advised to ask for an itemized bill and to request the immediate refund of any unearned fees and the return of the file when the lawyer is discharged.
- "My spouse’s divorce lawyer said things that are not true to the judge."
ACAP will explain that unless the lawyer made willful misrepresentations of fact or law, this claim should be raised with the caller’s own attorney since there may be nothing the Board of Bar Overseers or the Office of the Bar Counsel can do. However, the caller is advised that if there is proof establishing that the lawyer engaged in deliberate misrepresentations to the court, a complaint form will be sent.
What ACAP cannot do.
ACAP deals with problems that can be resolved without extensive investigation and the disciplinary procedures of the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel. When a caller alleges serious misconduct, such as the mishandling of client funds, ACAP will provide a complaint form and urge the caller to file it with the Office of the Bar Counsel. Although ACAP cannot give legal advice, when a caller needs legal assistance, we will direct the caller to other resources for assistance.
How does ACAP assist attorneys?
ACAP helps attorneys by providing an informal means of addressing minor complaints from dissatisfied clients and others. We also give information and suggestions about effective resolution of disputes in an ethical and professional manner.
Most problems with clients can be prevented by returning the client’s calls promptly, keeping clients informed about the status of the case, written fee agreements, regular billing practices, meeting deadlines, and managing a caseload efficiently.
In some cases, ACAP will refer lawyers to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, peer assistance and practice management assistance through local bar associations, and the Office of the Bar Counsel ethics hotline for information and help.
NOTE: THE ACAP PROGRAM IS NOT A "LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM" AS DEFINED IN RULE 1.6(C) OF THE MASSACHUSETTS RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT.
As an arm of the Office of the Bar Counsel, ACAP is governed by the Supreme Judicial Court rules which mandate that the Office of the Bar Counsel and the Board of Bar Overseers keep complaints confidential. Thus, ACAP cannot disclose that someone has contacted us about an attorney. However, ACAP’s connection to the Office of the Bar Counsel also requires that ACAP’s records be available to Bar Counsel and that ACAP advise Bar Counsel if it receives information indicating that a lawyer is engaging in serious misconduct. A consumer who makes a written or telephone inquiry to ACAP is immune from liability based on the inquiry. This immunity does not extend to public disclosure by the consumer of information contained in or relating to the complaint.
How can I get more information?
Call ACAP at (617) 728-8750 any Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The fax number is (617) 482-2992. You may also write to the following address:
Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program
The Office of the Bar Counsel
99 High Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02110
ACAP does not accept inquiries over the Internet.
© 2006. Board of Bar Overseers. Office of Bar Counsel. All rights reserved.