State Bar of California
State Bar Defense
Difficult clients and fee disputes place attorneys at risk for complaints and investigations into their professional conduct. Not only must attorneys adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys must also adhere to California’s Business and Professions Code.
Complaints and investigations
Complaints are typically filed against attorneys by clients, courts, insurance companies, and fellow attorneys. The state bar also receives notice of arrests. The State Bar of California receives complaints, which are investigated by the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel and are prosecuted in the independent state bar court. If criminal conduct is suspected, the state bar may also refer the matter to law enforcement for investigation and potential criminal prosecution.
For a visual chart that depicts the complaint process, please see the complaint process chart on the state bar’s website.
Common complaints against attorneys include:
- Overdrawing client trust accounts
- Unauthorized practice of law
- Failing to disclose fee-sharing arrangements
- Ineffective communications with clients
When the investigatory process substantiates violations, the state bar will send a notice to the attorney of its intent to file charges. If the case is not settled with the state bar, charges will be filed and heard in state bar court. The state bar court has the power to issue public or private reprovals for lesser offenses. If the state bar court determines the attorney has committed professional misconduct or the attorney was convicted of a serious crime, the court has the power to recommend suspension of the attorney’s ability to practice law or even disbarment from the State Bar of California. Suspension or disbarment must be reviewed by the California Supreme Court before the discipline becomes final. All discipline is posted on the state bar’s website.
As an attorney, you are required to self-report certain matters, including any indictments or information charging a felony, any felony conviction, and many misdemeanor convictions. Deferred adjudication resolutions may constitute a “conviction” within the meaning of the State Bar Act even where the attorney is permitted to withdraw a no contest plea and the matter is dismissed without the entry of judgment. (Bus & Prof. Code section 6101(e) states that “acceptance” of no contest plea to criminal offense constitutes a conviction). Any felony conviction and any misdemeanor conviction where there is probable cause to believe that the offense involved moral turpitude, results in immediate suspension. (Bus & Prof. Code section 6102(a).) Specified felony convictions result in summary disbarment.
If you have been charged with or convicted of an offense that triggers the reporting requirements, we will work with you to timely and properly report the matter to the State Bar of California. We also work with you to mitigate and address any personal issues because of the importance of rehabilitation in any defense before the state bar. If formal disciplinary proceedings have been initiated in the state bar court because of substance abuse or mental health problems, our attorneys also advocate for participation in the state bar’s Alternative Discipline Program.
How we can help
While the facts of each investigation vary, it is generally wise to engage outside counsel before responding to investigators or requests for information. Counsel ensures that the state bar has all the relevant information to close an investigation without discipline or to minimize the discipline that may be eventually imposed. Counsel can often negotiate a resolution with the state bar’s counsel without the risk, time, and expense associated with a trial before the state bar court. Of course, our attorneys have the expertise and knowledge to aggressively defend you at a trial before the state bar court should the need arise.
Whether you have been wrongfully accused of misconduct or have made an uncharacteristic mistake, our attorneys offer the experience, expertise, and resources to aggressively defend you before the State Bar of California.