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.
What are the different levels of discipline that the State Bar Court imposes on attorneys?
Disciplinary action for violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct or the State Bar Act ranges from private reproval to disbarment.
The Probation Unit of the Office of Chief Trial Counsel monitors attorneys' compliance with the conditions imposed on suspensions and reprovals.
The State Bar Court also may put attorneys on involuntary inactive status if they appear to pose a serious threat to the public.
If a State Bar investigation indicates that an attorney's conduct only bordered on a violation or was a minor breach, State Bar prosecutors may choose an alternative to discipline.
The State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel could decide to send a Directional or Warning Letter to the attorney - and close the case. Or they could issue an Admonition informing the attorney that no further action will take place as long as they stay out of trouble for two years. Or they could settle on an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline that requires the attorney to fulfill specially tailored remedial conditions.