If you’re involved in an attorney discipline matter through the state bar, should you represent yourself? When a lawyer receives a letter from the state bar that announces the lawyer is under investigation because of a bar complaint, there are three choices. The lawyer can respond on their own, they can get a colleague to help, or they can hire a lawyer to help them during the response process. Before you decide that you will represent yourself in an attorney discipline matter take these five considerations under advisement.
Who Filed the Bar Complaint Against You?
A member of the public or an industry professional can file a bar complaint against a lawyer. It’s important for lawyers to understand that the identity of the complainant can and does affect the potential consequences. A former client who was clearly unhappy with the outcome of their case and refused to take your advice or one who has a history of criminal dishonesty will be viewed differently by the state bar than a sitting judge who filed a complaint. When it comes to attorney discipline, the state bar will feel obligated to prosecute a lawyer who was brought to their attention by a judge.
What Are the Potential Consequences?
If the potential consequences include disbarment, a lawyer should get help. Be prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect your career. If the potential consequence is manageable, a lawyer may consider handling the matter on their own. However, it is important to remember that it is often difficult to ascertain the severity of the potential consequences when an attorney discipline matter is first brought by the state bar.
Do You Have a Previous History of Attorney Discipline?
This point is incredibly important. Lawyers with a previous history of attorney discipline by the state bar will need help. You may understand the state bar’s process, but the fact that you’ve gone through the process means that the state bar is less likely to negotiate with you. The potential consequences you face are more serious as well.
Can You Truly Be Objective?
Attorney discipline feels like a personal attack on how you practice law. Do you have the ability to take a step back and truly be objective about what triggered the investigation? Objectivity is key in determining if you should represent yourself or get help. Responses to the state bar should not be defensive or angry. The state bar should not be able to interpret your response as an attack on the witness. Lawyers must also consider their ability to objectively defend themselves if the attorney discipline investigation moves to the prosecution stage.
Is Representing Yourself Cost Effective?
One major consideration for lawyers is the cost of hiring outside counsel to handle an attorney discipline matter. Yet, the cost of hiring a lawyer shouldn’t be your only consideration. You should also determine if representing yourself is cost effective. Answering that will largely depend on the other considerations discussed in this post. Think about the time and resources you’ll pour into your own defense. Consider the added stress.
If you’re thinking about asking a colleague to help, you may be able to save money when compared with hiring a lawyer experienced in attorney discipline matters. Yet, they may not have experience with the state bar.
Looking at the cost of all of your legal options before making the final decision is important. Always keep in mind how the potential consequences could affect your career. Compare that with the costs of getting help.
Looking for more information? Check out The Playbook by Megan Zavieh. You’ll learn valuable information about attorney discipline matters starting at the investigation and going all the way through the appeals process.