Attorneys know the ins and outs of the law. Unfortunately, however, there may be a time in their careers when they face a state bar investigation, which typically occurs if there is a complaint filed by a current or former client.
Understanding how the investigation process works may help ease some stress if someone ever faces one.
According to the San Diego County Bar Association, it may be helpful to know that even if a lawyer receives a letter from the board, in the end, there are very few attorneys who ultimately face disciplinarian actions. It is not uncommon, however, for lawyers in certain practice area, such as personal injury, marital dissolution and estate planning, to receive letters with some sort of inquiry.
Receiving a letter from the board outlining the complaint or asking for more clarification is the first step. If the situation seems to be more serious, the board will assign the case to an investigator, who will obtain related documents and interview witnesses.
According to The State Bar of California, the bar gives the accused attorney the option to respond to the complaint, which will be part of the investigative documents. The investigation process generally takes up to six months to conclude. Upon conclusion, the state bar attorneys determine one of three things: A dismissal of the complaint, imposition of a confidential resolution or the filing of disciplinary charges.
Facing disciplinary charges
If an attorney receives a letter outlining charges, he or she must respond as soon as possible or face potential inactive status until the case wraps up. There is a status conferences scheduled within 45 days after the filing of the charges. Depending on the case, there may be additional conferences or a trial.
If the court finds the defendant guilty of less serious misconduct, there may just be remedial action or private reproval. Disbarment typically only occurs if there was a serious violation or there is a history of wrongdoing regarding clients.