The State Bar licenses attorneys to practice in California. It also investigates complaints against attorneys and determines whether lawyers accused of unethical conduct should be disciplined. When complaints are filed with the State Bar, they are investigated by the Office of Chief Trial Counsel.
After the investigation is complete and if charges are justified, the State Bar discusses the grievance with the attorney and how to resolve it. If no settlement is reached, State Bar Court holds a hearing to review the charges. After reviewing the evidence, a State Bar Court judge determines whether the attorney should face discipline, such as suspension or disbarment. The proposed discipline then goes before the California Supreme Court for final review.
If criminal conduct is suspected, the State Bar may also refer the matter to a law enforcement agency for investigation and potential prosecution.
Besides complaints, the State Bar requires attorneys to report incidents to the State Bar that may affect their ability to practice law. These incidents include:
In addition to activities that may affect their own licenses to practice, attorneys must tell the State Bar and their clients when they employ a current or former State Bar member who has been suspended. Learn more about reporting requirements.
The duty to inform the State Bar of various incidents falls on attorneys and on a variety of other agencies and groups:
Find the forms to report these activities.
Attorneys who have a fee dispute with a client are required to notify the client about their right to fee arbitration. Find out more about Mandatory Fee Arbitration.
How does the State Bar handle attorney misconduct?
The Office of Chief Trial Counsel handles complaints from both clients, members of the public, and other attorneys over unethical professional conduct. Attorney misconduct complaint form available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, and Chinese.
You may also call the State Bar’s multilingual intake hotline at 800-843-9053 (in California) or 213-765-1200 (outside California) to request the form or discuss the complaint-filing process. There is no fee for filing a complaint, and you do not have to be a U.S. citizen. Be sure to include copies of any documents that will help support your claim.
When you are done filling out the form, mail it to:
The State Bar of California, of Chief Trial Counsel, Intake Unit
845 South Figueroa Street Los Angeles, CA 90017-2515
An inquiry is opened for every written communication that involves a complaint about an attorney's conduct. After the inquiry is evaluated, the accused attorney may be diverted out of the system, or the inquiry may be closed.
If it appears, however, that the attorney may be a repeat offender or have committed a violation where there is a serious likelihood of discipline being imposed, an investigator and a Bar prosecutor from the Enforcement Unit take responsibility for the investigation.
The accused attorney is given an opportunity to respond, witnesses are contacted and documents are reviewed. At the investigation's conclusion, attorneys decide whether to:
- Dismiss the complaint
- Impose an informal confidential resolution, or
- File disciplinary charges.
The Notice of Disciplinary Charges is filed in State Bar Court, where it is assigned to a hearing judge. The accused attorney then must file an answer - or risk a default judgment or involuntary enrollment as an inactive bar member.
If a settlement cannot be reached, the case goes to trial in State Bar Court. After the trial, the hearing judge issues a written decision. Either side may appeal the decision to the State Bar Court's Review Department.
The California Supreme Court is the final arbiter in attorney discipline cases.