Many State Bar investigations can be closed with a limited but accurate recitation of the facts, selected documentary evidence, and a letter brief that includes citations to applicable law and relevant disciplinary case law.
Disciplinary Cases Typically begin with a Client Complaint
The typical State Bar investigation begins with a complaint received from a disgruntled client. Most result in a preliminary "inquiry." Based on the initial reply, an attorney will decide whether to close out the matter or begin an in depth, formal investigation. The people who evaluate your reply are professional prosecutors. You should employ counsel. You should NOT attempt to represent yourself.
Success is a closed investigation
We prefer to represent the attorney from the outset. We recognize the standard macros and the customized questions. We often see simple cases turn into nightmare investigations by an angry response that raises issues not contermplated by the original inquiry. Pro per attorneys tend to make rookie mistakes, such as copping an attitude when a simple apology for an honest mistake can help end the ordeal before it begins
Sometimes We Do Damage Control
You may get a letter that threatens actual prosecution. You are invited to discuss the case in person. Wake Up! This is an adversary system, and the prosecutor is asking you to agree to the opening offer of discipline, while you are still in pro per. As experienced defense counsel, we sometimes are able to negotiate a nondisciplinary diversion, or a private disciplinary outcome at this stage. If not, we will work to get the best offer for you without a full blown prosecution and trial. Yes, we are acutely aware that any public charges, and any public discipline, will appear on the State Bar's Membership Records listing for you.
The Disciplinary Prosecution and Trial
Public formal proceedings begin with the filing of formal charges in the State Bar Court. The charges and your formal answer are posted on the State Bar's membership records website. Cases are adversary proceedings, tried under speciaized administrative rules to full time State Bar Court judges. Sometimes it is best to settle. Sometimes you should confess a known error and concentrate on reducing the level of discipline. Sometimes a full court press is your best course. Your career is at stake in an adversary proceeding. Your opposing counsel did not take this job to help attorneys. You should be represented by somebody whose knowledge and experience is a match for the prosecutor . . . and up to the judge's standards.
If you are disciplined by California, you may have to self report to other jurisdictions where you are admitted, including federal courts and agencies. For other states, we can generally find a colleague in that far away jurisdiction.
This is no place for an amateur
We are often asked, won't I look guilty if I employ an attorney? No, you will look professional. This is an adversarial system, and there is a lot of pressure on the prosecutor's office to get high levels of discipline, no matter how low grade the offense. This AVVO article is a summary of the process. We have a complete description at http://www.fishkinlaw.com/CM/Custom/StateBarDiscipline.asp
Federal Discipline too
We have also represented attorneys in investigations at the U S District Courts in California; Ninth Circuit; Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR); U S Patent Office OED.
There are Rules of Procedure in the State Bar Court, along with Rules of Practice. They are often different from customary civil procedure. There are over 20 years of published cases in the California State Bar Court Reporter. If you are unaware of this publication, you are already at a serious disadvantage in trying to represent yourself at the State Bar.
We estimate that there are about 100 published appellate decisions each year, involving not only discipline, but civil duties that attorneys have. We keep up on these. We post summaries of recent ones at http://www.fishkinlaw.com/CM/Custom/WhatsNew.asp