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We represent lawyers and law firms in these risk management matters:
  • bar complaint defense
  • fee dispute litigation and arbitration
  • law firm partnership agreements (and unwinds)
  • solo/small firm continuity and succession plans
  • private ethics advice
Call Dan Schumack at 703-934-4656 for a phone consult.

We offer disciplinary defense at every stage of the process, including Bar Counsel's initial inquiry and investigation, peer review, negotiated dispositions, contested evidentiary trials, and appeals. Our ethics work is generally limited, by proximity to our northern Virginia office, to bar complaints before the D.C. Bar, Virginia Bar, or USPTO. Our Maryland work is generally limited to cases involving parallel complaints to D.C. or Virginia matters.

What to Do If You Receive a Bar Complaint

Open the Letter. Inquiries from Bar Counsel always have a response deadline. Your failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel may be charged as an independent disciplinary violation.

Lawyer-Up. Obtaining counsel early in the process is the safest course. Many disciplinary prosecutions result from issues that emerge solely out of the answers that pro se respondents give at the outset of an investigation. Self-inflicted damage done at the start of an investigation may be difficult to overcome later. (While you should avoid acting pro se on the merits, don't be afraid to ask Bar Counsel for a deadline extension so you have time to hire counsel.)

Check Your Policy. Review your Errors & Omissions Policy before you directly engage any counsel: many malpractice policies include defense of disciplinary proceedings. Some policies allow you to select your own counsel and submit that counsel's billing for reimbursement (or direct pay) from the carrier. Other policies may give the carrier a right to select your counsel. Further, your policy may condition coverage upon prompt reporting of a disciplinary inquiry. Disciplinary complaints sometimes have civil components (such as malpractice claims). Failure to report a disciplinary inquiry could, in some instances, result in loss of coverage for a related civil claim.

Take it Seriously. Disciplinary prosecutions generate records that sometimes become public, such as transcripts and exhibits, along with public fact-findings. Possible public sanctions for misconduct are admonition, censure, reprimand, probation, suspension, or disbarment. These are high stakes; so treat every Bar Counsel inquiry accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Will it Take? Disciplinary inquiries move at their own pace, which tends to feel excruciatingly slow when you are the subject of the inquiry. How long it will take before Bar Counsel announces its intent to dismiss or prosecute depends on case-specific factors.

Should I Settle with the Complainant? You can't settle a bar complaint. A complainant lacks the power to withdraw the bar complaint once it is made. Lawyers who are targets of actual or threatened bar complaints should not participate in discussing terms that purport to require withdrawal of a bar complaint or preclude making a bar complaint; Bar Counsel is likely to view such overtures as obstruction of justice and dishonest.

If I Reimburse My Client's Loss, Does the Investigation End? Maybe. Disciplinary offenses are complete when the misconduct occurs, notwithstanding subsequent curative efforts. Bar Counsel has discretion in some cases, and in some jurisdictions, to terminate an investigation because the complainant has been made whole. If prosecuted, your curative steps may be treated as mitigating evidence in any sanction decision. [When settling any civil claim with a client, make sure you comply with the fairness, timing, and disclosure requirements of Rule 1.8.]

May I Resign from the Bar to Avoid Prosecution? Probably not. In most jurisdictions, you cannot surrender your license while charges are pending without consenting to disbarment based upon an admission that the charges are true. Similarly, administrative suspension for non-payment of dues will not stop a disciplinary prosecution.

May I Move My Office to Keep Practicing? Probably not. For lawyers who are licensed in multiple states, a suspension or disbarment imposed in one jurisdiction is likely to cascade into every state and federal jurisdiction.

Do I Need to Respond to a Bar Complaint from a State Where I'm Not Licensed? Probably yes. This is a fairly common problem for lawyers who work near state lines and for lawyers who capture clients through multi-state advertising campaigns. Most jurisdictions claim the right to investigate and prosecute out-of-state lawyers if the complaint alleges misconduct that would support long arm jurisdiction in a civil matter.

What's the Difference Between Disbarment and Revocation? License revocation in Virginia is effectively the same sanction as disbarment in Maryland or the District of Columbia.

How Do I Get Reinstated? Some suspensions terminate by the mere passage of time. Other suspensions, and all disbarments, carry an obligation to move for reinstatement; and you will be expected to prove your fitness and rehabilitation as part of that process. The order of suspension or disbarment may include additional specific conditions that must be met prior to seeking reinstatement. (As examples: if you are disbarred for misappropriation, reinstatement might be conditioned on proof of restitution; if you are suspended for misconduct mitigated by alcohol addiction, reinstatement might be conditioned on proof of treatment for the addiction.)

Ethics Library (External Links)

Each licensing jurisdiction adopts its own ethics rules. This sometimes means a federal court or agency could have different ethics rules than the bar of the state where that federal court or agency is located.

Most licensing jurisdictions base their ethics rules on the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Note that the ABA Model Rules are not a basis on which to impose discipline unless adopted by a state bar or federal court/agency as its own.

For current versions of state bar ethics rules, see:
DC Bar | VA Bar | MD Bar

Maryland and some ABA-following jurisdictions have additional trust account regulations that exist outside of ethics Rule 1.15. See: MD Code | ABA Trust Guidelines

Notice: Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship. Our services are limited to Virginia, Colorado, District of Columbia, and Maryland.