Solo Practice Lawyer: Defending Against an Ethics Complaint

Oct 1, 2018 | Blog

As a solo practice lawyer, you may feel like you have few resources when compared to a peer who works for a mega-firm when it comes to fighting an ethics complaint. You may feel like you’re alone. It’s likely that you feel like you have to take on the bar by yourself. As a solo practice lawyer, you have a lot riding on the outcome of a bar investigation.

If you’re thinking about representing yourself, consider the following before you make your decision.

What Are the Potential Consequences?

If the ethics regulator investigates and finds that you’ve not upheld the Rules of Professional Conduct or Rules of Professional Ethics in your jurisdiction, what could happen? This is something that you must really come face-to-face with no matter how uncomfortable it may be. We know from experience that many solo practice lawyers downplay this or never even think about what could happen. Don’t put yourself in that position.

The more severe the potential consequences are, the more likely it is that you need an ethics defense lawyer to help you. This can be done via full-scope representation, partial-scope representation, or even just a consultation that helps you plan the proper defense. A private reprimand is something that most lawyer can live through and often even deal with on their own. Yet, what about suspension or disbarment? Any attorney discipline you face may create the requirement for you to report what’s happened to every jurisdiction that you’re admitted. If you received an ethics complaint from the California Bar, check out State Bar Playbook.

The Identity of the Complaining Witness

You may think that the bar will recognize the absurdity of what’s being said about you and decide not to investigate. One of the factors the bar uses to determine whether they will investigate is the identity of the complaining witness. And, yes, there is a chance they’ll look at your behavior even if the complaint was filed by a former client. However, they will also consider other circumstances related to that client, including whether the client has a history of crimes involving dishonest actions. If the complaining witness is a member of the legal community, such as a lawyer or a judge, the bar will look more closely at you. They may even feel more obligated to prosecute you. If the complaint against you is filed by a judge or another member of the legal community, you should consider hiring an ethics defense lawyer.

How Emotionally Involved Are You?

Let’s be realistic. No one really enjoys getting a letter that tells them the bar is investigating them. It’s understandable that you feel shocked, angry, or scared. Many of your clients probably feel the same way when they come to you for help. One of the main points that you tell your clients is to try to think things through logically and to not do anything while they’re emotionally compromised.

The same holds true for solo practice lawyers dealing with a bar complaint. Don’t let your emotions write your response for you. Before you write your response, find away to get into a calm and rational state of mind. If you write a response that is defensive, angry, or that attacks the complaining witness, you’ll essentially hand them more motivation to investigate you.

An ethics defense lawyer can help you, at the very least, plan a logical, well-written response.

Do You Have a Previous History of Attorney Discipline?

If you have a previous history of attorney discipline, you need an ethics defense lawyer to help you. The bar will be less likely to work with you or negotiate if you have a history. The consequences you’ll face will be much higher if you have a discipline history.

Ready to Learn More?

If you’re a solo practice lawyer and you need help planning a defense or if you’re looking to establish a plan to protect your practice by minimizing the likelihood of having a complaint filed against you, schedule your consultation with Zavieh Law.