Attorney suspension occurs as a disciplinary action taken when a lawyer faces an ethical complaint, undergoes an investigation, and is subsequently found to have violated professional conduct rules. ABA Model Rule For Lawyer Discipline Enforcement 27 defines the obligations of an attorney has if they are suspended. An attorney has ten days to notify all of their clients, co-counsel, and opposing counsel of all pending matters. Some disciplinary committees may also insist that the attorney suspension is reported to financial institutions and other third-parties in the name of protecting the best interest of clients and the public.
The attorney must also return client-owned property and files. Unearned money sitting in a trust fund that hasn’t been earned may need to be refunded. The lawyer must also follow the proper procedures to withdraw from their active matters unless they have a new attorney that can step in.
Lawyers who are suspended cannot take on any new clients while they are suspended or on the date that they are reinstated. The lawyer must also provide proof that they’ve complied with the attorney suspension.
Can You Survive If You’re Suspended?
Some attorney suspensions are temporary. It may be as little as 30 days. While there may be several hoops to jump through to reinstate a license to practice law, it’s much easier to live with a short period of suspension than one that takes away your income for the rest of your life.
What you can do to survive an attorney suspension will largely depend on where you live and where you were admitted to practice law. For instance, California allows the employment of a suspended attorney to perform support work as long as clients with whom the suspended attorney will work with are notified. However, the suspended attorney can only do support work. They cannot engage in client consultations, appear on behalf of clients, engage in negotiations on behalf of clients, handle client funds, or be involved in the practice of law. Pennsylvania and Hawaii have similar rules. However, Hawaii does not allow the suspended attorney to have any sort of contact with clients or anyone else regarding legal matters. They could still continue to perform tasks such as research.
If you’re facing an attorney suspension, make sure that you understand what you can and can’t do in the realm of law to continue to earn a living. Consult your state rules. If you were recently notified of a pending disciplinary matter against you, follow these eight steps and then schedule a consultation with Zavieh Law.
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!