The following article was prepared by Jeff Wagnon who is an attorney and Of Counsel to Bob Bennett and Associates. In the last year, I as lead counsel and Mr. Wagnon as second chair have represened two disbared Texas Attorenys in getting their licenses reinstated. The two cases were very different in that the First Reinstatement got almost no resistance from the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel ("OCDC") other than showing up and announcing that the Bar (as the OCDC is required to do) was opposed to the reinstatement. No witnesses were call by the OCDC and little of any cross-examination was done. In truth, the Bar Attorneys showed up and did very little else. It was smooth sailing for the client. The Applicant studied for the Texas Bar Examination, passed, and is now licensed.
The Second Reinstatment was very different in that the Applicant in attempting to represent him/herself tried to set it for a hearing without proper notice to the OCDC. Not a good way to commence a matter in which you want to win the OCDC to your side and not piss them off. An antagonistic witness was called by the OCDC and a recent hot check written by the applicant was not helpful to the cause of getting reinstated. We are still waiting the outcome of this one.
Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Reinstate Your Law License
By Jeffery D. Wagnon, Attorney at Law
Of Counsel, Bob Bennett & Associates, PLLC
This article is primarily aimed at former attorneys who have lost their license either to disbarment or resigned their license in lieu of discipline. While it may have once been considered a death penalty, losing your law license as a result of disciplinary proceedings does not have to be the final chapter of your career. Rather, it can be an impetus to grow, self-actualize and lead to the amazing discovery of yourself. The following list explains how to make the reinstatement process as smooth as possible.
- Exit the right way.
Whether the process is disbarment or resignation, it is important to remainprofessional in how the matter is handled and resolved. While it is hard to imagine that anyone would be OK with being disbarred or choosing to resign in lieu of further disciplinary proceedings, the reality is that it happens, and how you handle things at that time can be critical to a smooth process of reinstating your license later. While the events are emotionally charged, using foresight and sound judgment to comply with the requirement of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure is critical. That includes paying any costs associated with the proceedings, and notifying clients and courts, and returning unearned fees, property and files to clients. There is a requirement that you do so, and the State Bar must be notified by way of affidavit that such activities have timely occurred. You will be asked to prove that you did this later, so it is certainly best to do itwhen required.
- Start building your case for reinstatement immediately.
As soon as the disbarment is final or the resignation is accepted, the clock starts to tick on when reinstatement is possible. If the ultimate goal is be readmitted to the Bar in the future, it is best to immediately start preparing your case. You will be asked in the future to certify that you have lived a life of exemplary conduct, and the sooner you start building your case the better. It has been said that the burden of proving sufficient good moral character and fitness for reinstatement exceeds what is required for an original applicant, and just staying out of trouble may not be sufficient. If substances or depression was an issue in your proceeding, it is in your best interest, both personally and professionally, to get involved with Texas Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP). Not only can you learn the skills necessary to manage your situations, but the camaraderie of the group also helps you stay connected to the legal community. Keeping abreast of the law is also important for your reinstatement as well as your mental acuity.
- Resolve the issues that led to the disciplinary proceedings.
Regardless of how you got to where you are, in order to get your license back in the future you are going to have to prove that you have resolved the issues that led to the discipline. For instance, if a complaint against you indicated, that you failed to timely return a file, then return the file. If the complaint alleged that you failed to provide an accounting of fees earned, do an accounting and return any unearned fees. If the complaint alleged that you accepted a fee, and then did not perform the work, then return the client’s money. While these things are common sense, it certainly helps frame things for your future reinstatement. While it is not mandatory that these clients join in recommending your reinstatement, it is best if they are made whole, so that they may not have any incentive to appear and oppose your reinstatement. An ambivalent former client can be managed. A hostile former client can be problematic.
- Keep good records.
As some point during the reinstatement process, you are going to be asked to produce records of things including satisfaction of client’s concerns, proof that you have been keeping current in the law, that you have paid any costs of the disciplinary proceeding, and other things that would evidence your life of exemplary conduct. Things like certificates from charitable works, statements from agencies where you have volunteered, recommendation letters from employers, etc. You will also be required to provide information regarding the prior disciplinary proceedings, including the name and address of any complaining party. While it is possible to do all of that at the time you file for reinstatement, obtaining documents at that time may take time and cost more than simply maintaining a good file.
- Determine Eligibility and Gather Information
One of the recurring problems in reinstatement cases is filing the petition too soon. The Rules require that a petition for reinstatement cannot be filed until five years has elapsed from the date the disbarment order became final or the resignation was accepted by the court. Most often the problems arise when there has been a criminal case, because the petitioner for reinstatement will have a tough burden of proving that they have lived a life of exemplary conduct, if their life has been lived on probation or parole for the previous five years. The particular facts and circumstances are obviously different in every case, and should be carefully considered before a petition for reinstatement is filed.