Lawyer suspension is one of the most common punishments in attorney disciplinary proceedings. Yet, how will it actually affect you? Here’s what you need to know.
You Don’t Just Walk Away from Everything During Lawyer Suspension
If you’re suspended by the state bar, you don’t just stop everything. There are certain things that you must do. Your obligations are listed in ABA Model Rule 27. The obligations related to lawyer suspension that you must fulfill include:
- Notifying all clients, co-counsel, opposing counsel (or pro se parties) of the order of suspension
- The court may also require that you send a notice to other entities, including financial institutions. Read the lawyer suspension order in its entirety to understand fully understand to whom you must give notice
- Provide clients with their files and any property that would assist a new attorney in taking over
- Refund any fees held in trust that haven’t been earned
- You must move to withdraw from representation in client matters if a new attorney doesn’t file an entry of appearance that is effective before the date of the lawyer suspension
- You may not take on any new clients from the time the lawyer suspension order is issued through the date that you are reinstated
- You must provide proof of compliance
What Can You Do During the Time of the Suspension?
If you’re a solo attorney, being suspended can mean that you have no income. Depending on the state where you’re admitting, you may be able to work in other capacities in the legal industry. For example, California allows an active attorney to hire someone in the midst of lawyer suspension to perform support work provided that any client who will have contact with the suspended attorney is given notice. However, the suspended lawyer may not give legal advice, appear in court, negotiate on behalf of a client, handle client funds, or otherwise engage in the practice of law. They may perform legal research, gather data, draft documents, schedule appointments, correspond with clients, and attend depositions and discovery proceedings if they are accompanied by the lawyer in good standing.
Not all states are as forgiving as California. For example, Hawaii doesn’t allow a suspended lawyer to have any client contact. Make sure that you read the rules in your jurisdiction to determine what you’re legally allowed to do.
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!