Thousands of attorneys undergo the stress of attorney discipline in their jurisdiction each year. According to statistics provided by the ABA, just over 1,000 lawyers were nationally disbarred in 2011. During that year, 674 lawyers filed petitions for reinstatement and only 67 of those petitions were granted.
Attorney Discipline Investigations Are Stressful
If you’ve never undergone an investigation by the ethics committee, feel glad. Being investigated can cost you time and money. The stress involved could lead you to paying even less attention to your practice and client matters. That, in turn, could leave to even more bar complaints.
Many lawyers believe that their best course of action is to handle the investigation on their own. However, because of the stress and how many lawyers take the investigation at a personal level, handling the investigation on their own isn’t always the best decision.
The Best Attorney Discipline Advice You’re Not Taking? Get Help
When you receive notice of a bar investigation, you have a choice. You can choose to respond on your own, get an attorney friend to help, or hire a lawyer who can help you through the response process.
You may wonder why you would need a lawyer to help you. In addition to the stress that comes from the investigation, it could be that you’re not incredibly familiar with the rules in your jurisdiction. It’s the same concept involved when a criminal defense lawyer refers a client or a potential client to a family law colleague because the party involves is interested in filing for divorce. Lawyers generally choose a concentration.
Is every attorney discipline matter cause to hire a lawyer? Ultimately, it depends on the lawyer under investigation. Here are five important considerations to help you make your decision.
How severe are the potential consequences?
After you’ve read the attorney discipline notification in full, you must determine the severity of the potential consequences. The more severe they are, the more important it is that you hire outside help. If you’re facing disbarment, get legal representation. If the consequences are mild, such as receiving an official warning level, you could likely handle it yourself.
Who filed the complaint?
Remember that anyone can file a complaint with the state bar. This includes clients, ex-clients, judges, and other court personnel. If the complainant is a client who has a history of filing complaints when they’re upset, the bar may investigate, but they may take the testimony of the witness less seriously.
If the complainant is a judge, the bar may feel an obligation to prosecute the case. You would most certainly want to hire a lawyer for the process.
How emotionally involved are you?
When you’re emotionally involved in an investigation that questions your actions as a professional, it’s easy to get defensive and emotional. It’s natural to feel that way. Yet, you must be able to objectively and honestly evaluate how emotionally involved you are before deciding that you should handle the attorney discipline investigation on your own. One of the worst possible things you can do is fire out an angry or defensive response that attacks the witness. If you cannot write an effective response, you need either limited or full scope representation.
Do you have a previous history?
If you have a previous history with the state bar for attorney discipline, it’s likely you’re going to need some help. There’s something that’s not working well in your practice that needs to be addressed/ The state bar isn’t going to be as willing to negotiate because of your previous history. The potential consequences involved could be more severe as well.
Is it prudent in terms of cost?
While money shouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether you hire a lawyer to help you through the attorney discipline investigation, it’s something that you should think about. Even if cost is a significant factor in this decision for you, it’s important to remember that your entire career could be on the line. You could talk with an attorney friend who understands the process. They may help you for free or for little cost. You could also consider a lower cost option to full scope representation by looking into limited scope representation.
Regardless of whether you choose to do it on your own or get help of some kind, you must ensure that you understand the rules in your jurisdiction. The Playbook is a guide written by Megan Zavieh. She will walk you through the entire attorney discipline process from investigation to appeal for the California State Bar. To learn more about full or limited scope representation, you may book your consultation with Megan by clicking 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!