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The Reasons Why Lawyers Get Disbarred

The cover of a pretty good book.  Fallen: Confessions of a Disbarred Lawyer.  See Amazon posing below.

The cover of a pretty good book. Fallen: Confessions of a Disbarred Lawyer. See Amazon posing below.

To disbar, according to Webster's dictionary, is to expel from the legal profession or from the bar of a particular court. Yet, the details of disbarment are a little more nuanced than that. Let's take a minute to go into more detail.

In truth, being disbarred is perhaps the most damning and yet least understood aspects of the legal profession. So let's start with some basic truths. In total I have four:

  • Attorneys are usually disbarred one-state (or one jurisdiction) at a time.
  • In general, lawyers are disbarred for those offenses that indicate an inability to practice law with honesty, integrity, etc.
  • Besides disbarment, there are other ways for an attorney to lose their license.
  • Disbarment is not always permanent. Some attorneys can get back their license.

The following article delves into these four points a bit further. Also, near the end; we have collated a table of contacts in each U.S. state where you can express your grievances about any legal professional. (Often we have found links to the online complaint letter that you can submit)

the-reasons-why-lawyers-get-disbarred

1.) Attorneys are usually disbarred on a state by state basis:

This makes perfect sense as lawyers take the bar exam for a particular state in order to obtain a license to practice in said state. And it just so happens that each state has its own set of similar but nonetheless unique rules governing attorney behavior. If an attorney violates or abuses these rules,he or she can be can be summoned to a disciplinary hearing where (among other things) they can be disbarred. However, disbarment by the court is usually an extreme case measure reserved for egregious violations of attorney ethics. In most cases, there are a series of punishments for lesser crimes that courts to default to such as fines, or suspensions.

So what if a lawyer is licensed in multiple states, which is a very common case, and gets disbarred in one; do they get disbarred in all the others. Generally speaking, no. It is up to for each jurisdiction to decide the status of someone's law license. However, getting disbarred in any one state does not speak well for you chances for retaining (or obtaining) a license in other states.

the-reasons-why-lawyers-get-disbarred

2.) In general, lawyers are disbarred for those offenses that indicate an inability to practice law with honesty, integrity, etc....:

This point has to be emphasized to understand exactly why some lawyers are disbarred and some are given lesser punishments or simply ignored. For instance If an attorney commits a crime, most courts and bar associations only really care about if the crime (whatever it is) indicates that the attorney lacks the characteristics necessary to be an effective lawyer. So let's do a thought experiment. Could a lawyer be convicted of drug possession or some other serious felony and still hold on to their law license? The answer...well it depends on the jurisdiction, but it is definitely possible. There have been more than a few cases of lawyers engaged in overtly criminal acts but still retaining their licenses.

3.) Besides disbarment, there are other ways for an attorney to lose their license.

This is another area of great confusion/misunderstanding for all non-legal experts. Disbarment is not the only way an attorney can lose their license. Rather it is important to acknowledge that many bar associations have clearly defined licensing requirements/duties that allow you to keep said license. These licensing requirements can vary among the different bar associations or jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions require the payment of dues while others may require that license holders obtain some kind of continuing education or both.

However, no matter what the requirement are, not complying with the them could result in a suspension of the attorney's license. Many jurisdictions are very careful not to call this type of law-degree loss "disbarment," as "disbarment" is often associated with legal misconduct and malfeasance. Unfortunately, much confusion still remains. Take for example, the Obamas.

"Who needs a law license when you can fist bump like this..."

"Who needs a law license when you can fist bump like this..."

A simple google keyword planner search will reveal that two of the most common phrases searched containing the search term "disbarred" are "Michelle Obama disbarred" and "Barack Obama disbarred." Put these terms into a search engine and you will see everything from conspiracy theory websites to forums dedicated to the birther movement raising suspicions about the circumstances surrounding Barack and Michelle's "disbarment." Most of them will make the claim that Barack Obama surrendered his law license in 2008 to escape the claim that he lied on his bar application. They will also claim that Michelle, likewise, lost her license under similar circumstances.

However, Factcheck.org and other independent sources have confirmed that both Barack and Michelle "have voluntarily elected to have their law license(s) placed on inactive status." Barack even going the further step of changing his law license to "retired" after he became president.

Obviously, whoever started the rumor about the Obama's licensure loss was banking on the commonly held view that service professionals who lose their license must have done something wrong. For shame :(.


4.) Disbarment is not always permanent.

the-reasons-why-lawyers-get-disbarred

In some cases, an attorney who has been disbarred for some kind of misconduct can petition a court or bar association to have their license reinstated. Yet, this is much easier said than done. According to this article in the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal, a recent survey shows that of the 674 petitions submitted for bar reinstatement/readmission, only 67 were successful. That's a paltry 10% of applications accepted.

Additionally, in most states, the process of reinstatement is full of extra roadblocks and barriers. For instance, some states require disbarred lawyers to retake the bar exam and undergo a full ethics and character review. And some bar associations require disbarred lawyers to pay extra fees in order to take the bar exam.

Moreover, many disbarred lawyers are themselves represented by counsel (other lawyers) as they attempt to reclaim their licenses. And this counsel is usually paid for out of pocket.

State-By-State Attorney Disciplinary Organizations & Contact Info

U.S. StateDisbarment OrganizationContact Info:Link To Attorney/Judge Grievance Form

Alabama

Alabama State Bar: Center For Professional Responsibility

415 Dexter Avenue Montgomery, AL 36104 334-269-1515 www.alabar.org

https://www.alabar.org/assets/uploads/2014/08/Complaint-form_brochure-2012.pdf

Alaska

Alaska State Bar

PO Box 100279, Anchorage, AK 99510-0279 / 840 K Street, Suite 100, Anchorage, AK 99501 Phone: 907-272-7469

https://alaskabar.org/wp-content/uploads/UPDATEDGrievance-2.pdf

Arizona

Arizona State Bar

State Bar of Arizona at 4201 N. 24th Street, Suite 100, Phoenix, Arizona 85016-6266, Tel. 602.340.7280.

https://courts.arkansas.gov/sites/default/files/Grievance_Form.pdf

California

California State Bar: Office of the Chief Trial Counsel

845 South Figueroa Street Los Angeles, California 90017-2515 Tel. (213) 765-1000 Fax: (213) 765-1168

http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/forms/2017_ComplaintFormENG_201701.pdf

Colorado

Colorado Supreme Court: Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

1300 Broadway, Suite 500 Denver, CO 80203 Tel. (303) 457-5800, or toll free (877) 888-1370.

Contact Attorney Regulation Counsel First

Connecticut

Connecticut Judicial Branch Statewide Grievance Committee (aka Statewide Bar Connsel)

287 Main Street Second Floor, Suite Two East Hartford, CT 06118-1885 Phone: (860) 568-5157; Fax: (860) 568-4953

http://www.jud.ct.gov/webforms/forms/gc006.pdf

Delaware

Office of Disciplinary Counsel

The Renaissance Centre 405 North King Street, Suite 420 Wilmington, Delaware 19801 P: (302) 651-3931 | F: (302) 651-3939

https://courts.delaware.gov/forms/download.aspx?id=84208

Georgia

State Bar of Georgia: Consumer Assistance Program

104 Marietta St. NW, Suite 100 Atlanta, GA 30303 800-334-6865 ext. 759 Fax: 404-287-8390

https://www.gabar.org/committeesprogramssections/programs/upload/cap_intake_form.pdf

Hawaii

Hawai’I Supreme Court: Office of Disciplinary Counsel

201 Merchant Street, Suite 1600 Honolulu, Hawai`i 96813 Tel. (888)206-5622.

http://www.odchawaii.com/uploads/140508_-_Complaint_Form.pdf

Idaho

Idaho State Bar: Office of Bar Counsel

525 West Jefferson • P. O. Box 895 • Boise, Idaho 83701 (208) 334-4500 • Fax: (208) 334-2764

https://isb.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/bc_complaint_form.pdf

Illinois

Supreme Court of Illinois: Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission

130 E. Randolph Dr., Ste. 1500 Chicago, IL 60601-6219 Phone: (312) 565-2600 or (800) 826-8625 Fax: (312) 565-2320

https://www.iardc.org/information/online_forms/Request_For__Investigation.pdf

Indiana

Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission

251 North Illinois Street, Suite 1650 Indianapolis, IN 46204 Phone: (317) 232.1807 Fax: (317) 233.0261

http://www.in.gov/judiciary/discipline/files/grform.pdf

Iowa

Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board

1111 East Court Avenue Des Moines, Iowa 50319 Telephone (515) 725-8017

https://www.iowacourts.gov/static/media/cms/Iowa_Supreme_Court_Attorney_Discipl_F98FFFB7D105A.pdf

Kansas

State of Kansas Office of The Disciplinary Administrator

701 Jackson St. 1 st Floor Topeka, Kansas 66603-3729 Telephone: (785) 296-2486 Fax: (785) 296-6049

http://www.kscourts.org/pdf/complaintform.pdf

Kentucky

Kentucky Bar Association Office Of Bar Counsel

514 West Main Street Frankfort KY 40601-1812

https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.kybar.org/resource/resmgr/Forms/complaint.pdf

Louisiana

Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board

4000 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 607 Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70816 (225) 293-3900 or (800) 326-8022

https://www.ladb.org/Complaint/HowTo.aspx

Maine

Board of Overseers of the Bar State of Maine

97 Winthrop Street P. O. Box 527 Augusta, Maine 04332-0527 Telephone: (207) 623-1121

https://form.jotform.com/BoardForms/grievance-complaint-form

Maryland

Office of Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland

200 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Suite 300, Annapolis, MD 21401 Phone: 410-514-7051

https://www.courts.state.md.us/sites/default/files/import/attygrievance/docs/complaintform.pdf

Massachusetts

Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers

99 High Street Boston, Massachusetts 02110 tel: (617) 728-8750 fax: (617) 482-2992

https://bbopublic.blob.core.windows.net/web/f/Confidential-Application.pdf

Minnesota

Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility

1500 Landmark Towers 345 St. Peter Street St. Paul, MN 55102

http://lprb.mncourts.gov/complaints/Pages/ComplaintForm.aspx

Mississippi

Mississippi Bar: Consumer Assistance Program

Consumer Assistance Program Post Office Box 2168 Jackson, Mississippi 39225-2168 Telephone at (601) 948-2344; email: gwaddle@msbar.org

: Will be sent you upon request

Montana

Office of Disciplinary Counsel

P.O. Box 1099 Helena, MT 59624-1099 phone: 406-442-1648 fax: 406-442-2685

http://www.montanaodc.org/Portals/ODC/Complaint.covsht.2.pdf

Nebraska

Counsel for Discipline

3808 Normal Blvd. Lincoln, NE 68506

https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/AD-2-14.pdf

Nevada

State Bar of Nevada Office of Bar Counsel

3100 W. Charleston Blvd., Suite 100, Las Vegas, NV 89102

https://www.nvbar.org/member-services-3895/ethics-discipline/complaint/complaint-online/

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office

4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102 Concord, NH 03301 Phone: (603) 224-5828 Fax: (603) 228-9511

Follow Instructions: http://www.nhattyreg.org/grievance.php

New Jersey

Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE)

There are currently 18 court ethics districts in New Jersey. Must submit grievance to district where attorney is located.

https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/forms/10952_grievancefrm.pdf

New Mexico

New Mexico Supreme Court: Disciplinary Board

20 First Plaza NW, Suite 710 Albuquerque, NM 87102 Office (505) 842-5781 FAX (505) 766-6833

https://www.nmdisboard.org/NMDBComplaintFormEng.pdf

New York

Attorney Disciplinary / Grievance Committee

Locations: Many different locations depending on where the lawyer in question practices

https://www.nycourts.gov/attorneys/grievance/complaints.shtml

North Carolina

North Carolina State Bar: Grievance Committee

PO Box 25908 Raleigh, NC 27611 Telephone: (919) 828‐4620

https://www.ncbar.gov/media/490329/grievance-form.pdf

North Dakota

North Dakota Supreme Court: Office of Disciplinary Counsel

Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 125 Slate Dr., Ste. 2, P.O. Box 2297, Bismarck, ND 58502-2297 Tel. 701-328-3925

Instructions: https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/Committees/disc_brd/information.htm

Ohio

Ohio State Bar Association: Office of Disciplinary Counsel

Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 250 Civic Center Drive, Suite 325, Columbus, Ohio 43215-5454

http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/DisciplinarySys/odc/odcform.pdf

Oklahoma

Oklahoma State Bar: Office of the General Counsel

General Counsel, Oklahoma Bar Association, P.O. Box 53036, Oklahoma City, OK 73152-3036, (405) 416-7007

http://www.okbar.org/Portals/13/General%20Counsel/ComplaintForm.pdf

Oregon

Oregon State Bar: Client Assistance Office

Client Assistance Office Oregon State Bar 16037 SW Upper Boones Ferry Road P.O. Box 231935 Tigard, Oregon 97281-1935

http://www.osbar.org/secured/cao_attorneycomplaints.asp

Pennsylvania

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: Disciplinary Board

Various Locations, Depending on District where Attorney resides

https://www.padisciplinaryboard.org/for-the-public/file-complaint

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Judiciary: Disciplinary Board

222 Quaker Lane – Room 1083 Warwick, Rhode Island 02886 (401) 823-5710 telephone

https://www.courts.ri.gov/PublicResources/disciplinaryboard/PDF/ComplaintForm.pdf

South Carolina

South Carolina Bar: Commission on Lawyer Conduct

Commission on Lawyer Conduct 1220 Senate Street., Ste. 111 Columbia, SC 29201 Telephone: (803) 734-2037

No Formatted Form, simply write or call

South Dakota

State Bar of South Dakota: Disciplinary Board

Disciplinary Board, The State Bar of South Dakota, 222 E. Capitol, Pierre, SD 57501

No Formatted Form, simply write and send in letter

Tennessee

Supreme Court of Tennessee: Board of Professional Responsibility

Board of Professional Responsibility 10 Cadillac Drive Suite 220 Brentwood, TN 37027 Fax No: 615-367-2480 Email: complaints@tbpr.org

http://www.tbpr.org/for-the-public/file-complaint

Texas

State Bar of Texas: Chief Disciplinary Counsel's Office

P.O. Box 13287 Austin, Texas 78711 Or fax it to (512) 427-4169

http://cdc.texasbar.com/cdc/Home/Index

Utah

Utah State Bar’s Office of Professional Conduct (OPC)

645 S 200 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84111

http://www.utahbar.org/member-services/cap-request-form/

Vermont

Vermont Judiciary: Professional Responsibility Board

Professional Responsibility Board c/o Costello Courthouse 32 Cherry St, Ste, 213 Burlington, VT 05401

Must be handwritten and send to offices

Virginia

Virginia State Bar: Office of Bar Counsel

Office of Bar Counsel Virginia State Bar 1111 East Main Street, Suite 700 Richmond, Virginia 23219-0026 (804) 775-0570

https://www.vsb.org/inquiry_form.pdf

Washington

Washington State Bar Association: Office of Disciplinary Counsel

1325 Fourth Ave, Ste 600 Seattle, WA 98101-2539 or caa@wsba.org

https://www.wsba.org/docs/default-source/licensing/discipline/2018-02-07-grievance-form-fillable-form.pdf?sfvrsn=f5af3cf1_18

West Virginia

West Virginia State Bar: Office of Disciplinary Counsel

2000 Deitrick Boulevard, Charleston, WV 25311-1231 Phone 304-553-7220 | Toll Free 866-989-8227

Must submit written affidavit

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Court System: Office of Lawyer Regulation

Office of Lawyer Regulation 110 East Main Street, Suite 315 Madison, WI 53703-3383 Telephone 877-315-6941 (toll free) or 608-267-7274 www.wicourts.gov/olr Email: OLR.Intake@wicourts.gov

https://www.wicourts.gov/formdisplay/LR-004.pdf?formNumber=LR-004&formType=Form&formatId=2&language=en

Wyoming

Wyoming State Bar: Office of Bar Counsel

P.O. Box 109 Cheyenne, WY 82003-0109

https://www.wyomingbar.org/wp-content/uploads/Ethical_Violations_Complaint_Form-1.pdf

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