When it comes to professional misconduct, lawyers can be subject to disciplinary action for a variety of reasons. The most common form of public discipline is suspension, followed by disqualification. In some cases, attorneys may even be punished for their conduct in their personal lives. It is essential to investigate if a lawyer has ever been sanctioned before deciding if they are the right fit for you. According to Business Code & Professions § 6085, the defendant lawyer must receive “fair, adequate and reasonable” notice of the charges and a “fair, adequate and reasonable right and opportunity” to defend themselves.
This means that communication between the lawyer and the client is essential, as the client must be informed of the strategies that will be used during the representation. In addition, Article 6068 (i) of the Business Code & Professions states that the defendant lawyer has an obligation to “cooperate and participate in any disciplinary investigation or other regulatory or disciplinary proceedings pending against them.” If a complaint is filed against a lawyer, the state organization will investigate and determine if any ethical rules have been violated. If so, the State Bar Association will assign an attorney and investigator from the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel to look into it. Sanctions can range from not paying bar fees to serious ethical violations such as embezzling client funds. If the initial review determines that no ethical violations have occurred, then the reporting witness will receive a letter explaining why the complaint was filed. It is also important to note that Rule 3.10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits a lawyer from threatening to file “disciplinary charges” in order to gain an advantage in a civil dispute. If the case is not resolved, then the State Bar Association will file charges against the lawyer in the State Bar Court, making it public knowledge.
The following state links can help you learn if a lawyer is currently eligible to practice law or if they have been sanctioned in the past. Jay Reeves is an experienced transactional lawyer, educator and ethics specialist who provides expert witness services in disputes related to commercial transactions and corporate governance, as well as legal malpractice and legal ethics. He is also the author of The Most Powerful Lawyer in the World.