Bar discipline is a serious matter. It’s a stressful time. If you don’t know how to recover from bar discipline, the likelihood that you’ll go through the process again in the future is higher. So, how can a lawyer recover from bar discipline and protect themselves from going through the process in the future?
Address Your Emotions Related to the Experience
During the bar discipline process, lawyers experience a range of emotions. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They’re depressed. They feel anxious. Many even go into denial over what’s happening. It’s not just the process, either. They’re upset with the complaining witness. Many feel as if they were treated unfairly by the bar. They’re upset about whatever sanction they received. It’s a nasty situation.
And those feelings linger. They don’t just disappear for most lawyers. Denial, frustration, and anger can make it difficult for lawyers to recover from the bar discipline process. You must address your emotions and work through them. If you don’t, it’s next to impossible for you and your practice to fully recover and come up with a game plan to avoid another complaint.
Get Help for Substance Abuse or Mental Health Issues
Practicing law is stressful. Statistics show that lawyers have a higher instance of substance abuse as well as mental health issues (including depression and anxiety). If either of these issues played (or play) a part in your life, it’s time to get help even if the issue wasn’t addressed during the bar discipline process. If you don’t believe that substance abuse or mental health played a part in the ethics complaint, just understand that not addressing these issues could put you at risk of having another one filed against you.
To Recover from Bar Discipline, Get Objective about What Happened
We already emphasized the importance of dealing with your emotions (including denial). You must get into an objective state of mind about what happened and why it happened. It’s certainly no fun to reflect on what you went through, but it’s necessary. If you cannot think about the situation from an objective frame of mind, it’s time to bring in someone who can. Talk with the ethics defense lawyer who represented you, another lawyer who knows what happened as well as your work habits, or even your spouse. Understand that this isn’t about picking on you or pointing out personal or professional flaws. This is about identifying the problem so that you can come up with a solution that can help you avoid future run-ins with the bar.
Be Honest about the Issue(s) That Caused the Bar Complaint
The most common reasons bar complaints are filed against lawyers include incompetence, not acting in a way that is considered diligent, and poor communication. Of course, those aren’t the only reasons why bar complaints get filed against lawyers.
Be honest with yourself about the issues that created this situation. This is the only way that you can recover from bar discipline and hopefully prevent it from happening in the future.
Create a Plan to Change
Now that you understand the issues, you can create a plan to change. You might not know what you need to do to change, but the answers are out there. Talk with other lawyers you trust about different resources they use for communication, docketing, keeping up with their schedule, or whatever addresses your particular situation. Find the right technology. Get an assistant. If you have an assistant, make sure you’re letting them help you. Do some research. There are a lot of great tools (some are free) that can help you correct the issue and hopefully keep you on track in the future.
And If You Face Another Bar Complaint in the Future?
If you find yourself dealing with another bar complaint in the future, talk with an ethics defense lawyer. The bar has less leniency with lawyers who went through bar discipline in the past. Do not represent yourself. Use resources such as The State Bar Playbook to help you understand the process from start to finish.