Few things are scary in professional life than receiving a letter form the state bar that questions your professional conduct. It’s important to note that these letters don’t always come about because of an ethics complaint made against you by a current or former client. Sometimes, these state bar letters are triggered because a lawyer moves to another jurisdiction and didn’t fulfill a practice requirement. Here are the steps you should take if you receive that letter.
Step 1 – Don’t Panic. Read the Letter to Understand Why the State Bar Sent It
These letters can be scary. Keep calm. Read the letter in its entirety to understand why you received it. Did you forget to file a specific form? Were you reported for lack of professional conduct? Sometimes, sending out these letters that signal an investigation are part of a routine process by the state bar.
Step 2 – Read the Rules Mentioned in the Letter
When you read the letter from the state bar, you’ll most likely see a reference to the rule or rules that you allegedly violated. Find those rules in their entirety and read them. While you’re reading those rules, find other rules related to your practice. This will help ensure you understand how the rules work as a whole. That is a necessary step to defend your actions to the bar.
Step 3 – Find the Right Resources to Help You Respond
Look online for message groups related to your state bar. Talk to colleagues who’ve gone through the process. Find articles that can walk you through a similar situation. Make sure those articles are written for lawyers in your jurisdiction. Every jurisdiction has different rules. You need to know how to handle that situation in your jurisdiction. Do your research and know what you can expect from the state bar.
Step 4 – Talk with a Qualified Lawyer
Even if the state bar letter was issued as part of routine procedure because you forgot to do something, you should highly consider talking with a qualified lawyer. Ask about what general happens in your situation. Ask about what you can do to increase your chance of success.
Learn whether you can get help with your response or if you must hire the attorney to defend you through the entire process. Limited scope assistance can be extremely helpful because lawyers who routinely plan state bar defenses know the rules and they know what you’ll need to do. You may find it beneficial to look for a lawyer that can provide you will full scope services. This will help reduce your stress.
Step 5 – Again, Don’t Panic.
Yes, really. When you face the state bar, don’t panic. These state bar letters can feel highly personal. Perceived personal attacks can make people prone to emotional reactions. Those emotional reactions can get you into more trouble. You need to remain objective so that you can carefully weigh the facts and properly respond.
Zavieh Law provides limited and full scope representation to lawyers facing an investigation into their professional conduct. Megan Zavieh is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, several federal courts, and the United States Supreme Court. To schedule an telephone consultation with Zavieh Law, click here.
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!