After an attorney is subject to bar discipline, how can they get back to normal? In addition to getting back to their career, how can an attorney make sure that they don’t face a future bar discipline encounter? The truth is, as an attorney disciplined by the bar must have a plan to keep it from happening again. Megan Zavieh focuses her legal practice on California bar discipline matters, but regardless of state, attorney can follow this game plan for to avoid further disciplinary matters.
Consider and Address How You Feel After the Process
Lawyers are known for their ability to stay level headed and objective during the most trying of legal battles. California bar discipline is a very personal matter that many attorneys (rightfully) take to heart. After the matter closes, you must take an objective look at how the matter affected you. How do you feel about it? Many lawyers continue to feel angry and frustrated at the complaining witness. Generally, lawyers aren’t even sure that the bar treated them in a way that was fair.
If these negative feelings are left unchecked, lawyers return to their professional lives without ever putting a system into place that will help them avoid a disciplinary matter in the future. This is true even if the complaint was something small in nature, such as a failure to communicate often enough with a client.
Get Mental Health or Substance Abuse Treatment, If Necessary
If you were disciplined over something that relates to substance abuse or mental health issues, make sure that you get the treatment that you need. When the problem itself is not addressed, you could set yourself up for future disciplinary actions. In California, lawyer assistance programs provide access to mental health professionals.
Your Game Plan to Avoid Future Bar Discipline
You can increase the chances that you’ll avoid future encounters with the ethics committee if you implement the following:
- Embrace objectivity about what happened. If you can’t be objective about what happened, hire a lawyer whose main focus is on helping their professional counterparts deal with these issues. The negative feelings you’re experiencing as a result of your encounter can make it hard for you to be objective. If you have a mentor that you trust, you can talk with your mentor about what happened. This third-party feedback is important because it can help you with the next point.
- Identify what needs to change in the future. This is where that third-party feedback is important. It can often be easier for another person to objectively tell you what needs to be changed. Sometimes, it is hard to see our own shortcomings. Remember, even if you don’t personally feel it’s an issue, the state bar disagrees with you. Continuing down the same path will only result in more trouble and a possible future disbarment.
- Access resources that can help you implement a new system. How you follow this point will depend largely upon what you faced discipline over. For example, if your issue was regarding communication, you could find articles geared toward lawyers online that cover how you can improve your communication skills with clients. If your issue involved billing, you could first ensure that you understand how to use your billing software. Then, make time every day for billing or ask your assistant for help in this area. If you don’t have an assistant, consider hiring someone who can help you with your legal billing. This will improve your quality of life in two ways. First, you’ll reduce the likelihood of future bar discipline over the same issue. Second, you’ll improve how your law office operates.
- Get a support system. Many attorneys who face bar discipline hearings are solo. The lack of support can create an issue. Make sure that you’re involved with professional colleagues. If you’re undergoing counseling because of the disciplinary matter, you’re going to meet other attorneys going through the same thing. This is a great way to develop a support system.
- Get any professional help that you need. We’ve already touched on the importance of getting substance abuse or mental health assistance if you need it. Recent research suggests that successful attorneys are more likely to struggle with mental health issues.
If you want professional legal advice about how you can avoid disciplinary issues in the future, schedule your consultation with Zavieh Law. Consultations are private and conducted via phone.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!