California Bar Discipline: Which Factors Matter the Most?

May 22, 2019 | Blog

California bar discipline depends on multiple factors. Those factors do more than lead the bar to make a decision regarding the complaint filed against you. You can use them to decide if you should represent yourself, get limited-scope representation, or full-scope representation. In this post, we’re going to explore some of the most important factors involved in California bar discipline.

Related: 5 Steps to Help Protect Your Practice from an Attorney Bar Complaint in California

The Identity of the Complainant

The California Bar knows that there are times when unhappy clients file complaints. They know that those complaints aren’t always founded. However, there are times when those complaints may appear valid. Because the California Bar has the important job of protecting the public, they do investigate many allegations when the complainant is a member of the public.

Yet, current and former clients aren’t the only ones who may trigger the California bar discipline. Judges, lawyers, and other members of the legal profession may also see something that causes them to file a complaint against you. From our experience as a legal ethics defense law firm, the California Bar takes complaints filed by other legal professionals very, very seriously; this is especially true when the complainant is a retired or sitting judge.

Without a doubt, the identity of the complainant is a factor in California Bar discipline.

Previous California Bar Discipline History

Your previous discipline history is another factor that affects the severity of any potential punishment from the bar. If this is your first complaint, the California Bar may be more willing to take mitigating factors into consideration. Depending on the severity of the allegations, you may be able to represent yourself or limited-scope representation.

If you have a previous history of bar discipline, the California Bar is less likely to work with you toward a more amicable resolution. They take their responsibility of protecting the public very seriously. If you have more than one previous complaint, they’re going to see that as a huge issue.

Your Time as a Practicing Lawyer

The California Bar may consider how long you’ve practiced as another factor when weighing the possibility of discipline. A lawyer who is brand new to the profession may be given a lesser punishment than someone who has decades of practice experience. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. California Bar discipline may include this factor in addition to the severity of the allegations within the complaint.

Your Emotional Involvement

It may seem like an odd factor that might affect California Bar discipline, but it’s not. Think about the last time you had a client and the opposing sides acted completely inappropriate in some way. This could be either the opposing client or their counsel. They say inappropriate things. They fire off inappropriate emails. Their emotions truly have them by the collar. How did their behavior make you feel about them? Were you more inclined to try and reach an amicable resolution? Did you try to drown them in motions?

Related: How Intimidation Affects Your Law Practice Management Plan

Emotional involvement can make you do things and say things that you generally wouldn’t. That’s really the last thing you need to do when you’re involved in the California Bar disciplinary process. If you think being angry with the investigator will make them see the allegations filed against you are ludicrous, you’re wrong. It gives them cause to believe that you’re being overly defensive. If you think that burying the investigator in paperwork will somehow make them decide the investigation isn’t worth it, you’re wrong. You may give them ammunition.

What Should You Do If You Receive an Ethics Complaint?

We know that the reality of defending an ethics complaint is overwhelming and, for many lawyers, insulting. We’re here to help. Zavieh Law provides consultations, limited-scope representation, full-scope representation, and probation monitoring for California lawyers involved in the California Bar discipline system. We also offer The Playbook. The Playbook is Megan’s online, interactive guide that walks you through the entire process, from the moment you receive a complaint and all the way through the appeals process. It also includes the California ethics rules, commentary, a community of lawyers, and other helpful tools. To learn more about any of our services, please follow the highlighted phrases above.

State Bar Court practice guide
A practice guide for self-represented lawyers in State Bar Court