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Attorneys and ethical violations: What to expect

In today's world, ethics are extremely important. When an attorney does participate in some form of misconduct, he or she cannot expect the State Bar to look the other way.

However, there are different penalties for different types of violations -- because not all violations are the same.

It's important, especially for young, inexperienced attorneys, to understand the different penalties misconduct can bring.

  1. Minor misconduct -- This is the sort of thing that warrants nothing further than a stern lecture. For example, showing disrespect to a judge or opposing counsel inside a courtroom. Whatever the issue, it falls short of requiring formal disciplinary action.
  2. Sanctions -- These are applied when an attorney knowingly abuses his or her power during litigation in order to drag out a trial, make thing deliberately difficult for the opposition or generally try to thwart justice from its course. A sanction can affect not only the attorney, but his or her clients in the case at hand as well.
  3. Censure -- This is a formal reprimand that declares the attorney guilty of misconduct. It may be public or private, but it indicates that the attorney has somehow undermined the administration of justice or the public's faith in justice. Among the more severe forms of discipline that can be meted out, this is considered relatively light. An attorney might also be required to attend some ethics classes as part of the punishment.
  4. Suspension of license -- This stops short of full disbarment but is still quite serious. It disrupts an attorney's livelihood and can shake the faith of future clients who learn about it as well. An attorney with a suspended license cannot practice law during the period of suspension.
  5. Disbarment -- This is the most severe punishment an attorney can face. Disbarment revokes an attorney's license to practice. In some cases, the attorney may be allowed to reapply to the state bar after a certain period of time, but their personal and financial lives are going to be put under a virtual microscope before readmission.

It's often wise to seek legal help of your own if you're called up before the ethics panel. Attorneys who are able to present mitigating factors that help explain their behavior and show that it is unlikely to reoccur are far more likely to come out of an administrative review with a lesser punishment than those that don't.

Source: lawshelf.com, "Discipline, Sanction, Disqualification," accessed Dec. 28, 2017

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