One of the most common legal ethics issues is how a lawyer can recover their career after bar discipline. Bar discipline isn’t just a slap on the wrist and then you go on your merry way. It can have long-reaching consequences. Lawyers often end up facing the legal ethics committee more than once. Is it possible for a lawyer to fully recover their career after bar discipline and protect themselves from future legal ethics issues?
The answer is yes. If you’re a lawyer and you want to avoid another run-in with the ethics committee, there are some easy steps you can take that will help you recover your career and avoid future legal ethics issues.
Get Past Your Anger
The first thing you must do is get past the anger that you feel. Many lawyers who continue to find themselves in the cross-hairs of the state bar never got past the initial anger, frustration, and denial they felt from the first investigation. While those feelings may be justified, they won’t help you save your career. Continuing to harbor these feelings will prevent you from addressing the legal ethics issue that put you into this situation. If you can’t address the situation, you cannot rebuild your professional life and you cannot prevent another investigation in the future.
Address Any Substance Abuse or Mental Health Issue Involved
Lawyers face a higher risk of substance abuse problems and mental health issues because of the stress caused by their work. Although this should be dealt with during the discipline process, some lawyers don’t want the bar to know that it’s an issue. So, instead of looking to get help, they end up back in front of the disciplinary committee over and over again because bar complaints continue to get filed.
If you have a substance abuse or mental health issue, get the help that you need. Reach out to your state bar’s help line. Talk with your primary care physician. Get a referral for help. Getting professional help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you want to get better and continue to practice law and help others.
Use the Proper Resources to Meet Your Needs
You know what needs to change in your practice. Find and use the proper resources to meet your needs. Get help organizing your office. Get help moving to a cloud-based system that will organize your client files. Get help with your docketing and billing. Get help with client communication. There’s absolutely no reason for you to go it alone. Ask other attorneys for software recommendations. Look into resources recommended by your bar association.
Find a Support System
Many lawyers who face discipline over legal ethics issues are solo attorneys. Working solo has many benefits, but it also has drawbacks. One drawback is the lack of built-in support. Solo attorneys should reach out to other solo attorneys through the bar’s solo practitioners group or other groups to get support. This will help you by giving you someone to talk with who can provide you with valuable advice (and for whom you can do the same). No one is perfect. We all need support at times.
And What If You End Up Back in Front of the Bar Discipline Committee?
If, despite your best efforts, you end up back in front of the bar discipline committee, Zavieh Law suggests that you find legal representation. Even taking the time to consult with a lawyer who developed a practice around helping other lawyers in these matters can be invaluable. It’s important to not face the bar alone for a second (or third) time.
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!