Most, if not all, attorneys worked hard to obtain their bar card. A complaint to the state bar in California can threaten all of that. For that reason, attorneys facing an ethics complaint against them should be familiar with the claims process and know how to defend themselves against one once it has been made.
Defending against an ethics complaint
There is a three-step process once an attorney has been accused of lawyer misconduct. The first ages in the process is for the complaint to the California State Bar to be evaluated by a group of non-lawyers who are supervised by a group of state bar lawyers. This is the intake phase of the process. During the intake phase, the question is asked if the information submitted in the complaint were true, would the state bar be interested in prosecuting the claim.
During the next phase, if the answer to the question asked is yes, the complaint can be forwarded to the enforcement section of the state bar for investigation. Similarly to complaint analysts, the investigators are not attorneys. Investigators are also supervised by state bar lawyers.
Attorneys have a duty to cooperate with investigations being made against them but constitutional and statutory protections apply. Following the investigation, which normally takes 6 months, the investigator will write a report and make a recommendation whether or not to prosecute the complaint. The supervising state bar lawyer will make the decision to prosecute and would also be the one prosecuting the case in State Bar Court if they decide to proceed.
There are different potential outcomes for attorneys facing a lawyer misconduct or ethics complaints that can range from the minor misconduct program and a warning letter to serious discipline that could result in the loss of the bar license. For that reason, attorneys facing a bar complaint should be familiar with the process and understand the process of protecting themselves against a bar complaint which is why trained guidance can be beneficial.