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 does the State Bar do when a California attorney is convicted of a crime?
The convicted attorney, the district attorney and the court are each required, by law, to notify the State Bar any time that an attorney is arrested and charged with a crime or criminally convicted. These overlapping requirements help assure that the State Bar will be notified. When the State Bar receives such a report, the information is forwarded to the State Bar Court. Then it is handled in several different ways, depending upon the nature of the conviction.
If the attorney is convicted of a felony, they are placed on interim suspension pending a disciplinary hearing on the merits in State Bar Court. Attorneys convicted of a misdemeanor also are put on interim suspension if the crime involved "moral turpitude" by its very nature. Some crimes, such as theft, are designated by law as crimes involving moral turpitude.
But if the attorney's misdemeanor conviction does not by its very nature involve moral turpitude, they face a hearing in State Bar Court to determine the discipline, if any, to be imposed in the case.