Three Reasons Attorneys Should Never Be Self-Represented in Disciplinary Proceedings

Any lawyer who has been practicing law for a reasonable number of years has advised clients not to face legal issues, including administrative hearings, without an experienced attorney.  Ironically, many knowledgeable and experienced lawyers make this very mistake when facing allegations of misconduct filed by a client or other state bar disciplinary proceedings.  If you have undertaken the sweat and tears of law school, the bar exam, and building a law practice, the value of your license to practice law in Kansas or Missouri is invaluable.

The decision to hire an attorney that focuses a substantial portion of her practice on professional disciplinary matters can mean the difference between keeping your career on track and disbarment. Professional licensing attorney Danielle R. Sanger represents clients throughout Kansas and Missouri in proceedings involving alleged ethical improprieties and other misconduct against professionals like attorneys, accountants, dentist, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, chiropractor, optometrist and many others.  The information below provides reasons that a lawyer facing charges brought by the office of the Missouri Chief Disciplinary Counsel should retain experienced legal counsel.

Low Evidentiary Burden:  Although the consequences of the Supreme Court of Missouri’s disciplinary system clearly have a punitive impact, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel that pursues such cases is subject to a less than taxing burden of proof.  The prosecutor only needs to establish violations under the preponderance of the evidence standard.  This low evidentiary burden makes it essential to be represented by someone with experience dealing with the prosecutors and state bar disciplinary actions.

Ability to Avoid Formal Charges: Many attorneys who are the subject of a client complaint are able to avoid formal discipline or public discipline because of the effective negotiation efforts of their administrative law attorney.  Ms. Sanger evaluates the facts, charges, complaint, and evidence to assess the probability of avoiding formal discipline or obtaining diversion.  Diversion options might include admonitions, fee dispute resolutions, and/or substance abuse intervention.

Impact on Professional Reputation: Even if you do not receive a suspension during which you cannot practice law or a disbarment, any form of public discipline will impact your professional reputation.  Public discipline is readily available to potential clients, opposing counsel, employers, and judges, so aggressive representation might allow you to avoid significant negative impact to your career.  A public reprimand or suspension (with or without probation) is easily discovered, so a decision to take a chance without legal representation might turn out to be an extremely costly gamble.

Navigating the Disciplinary Hearing Process: If sufficient evidence exists that a serious violation has occurred, an information will be filed, which will set forth the charges brought by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel (or a Regional Disciplinary Committee).  The complainant (usually a disgruntled client) has thirty days to request an Advisory Committee review.  While no attorney wants to receive correspondence regarding allegations of a violation of professional responsibility rules, any correspondence must be opened promptly because default can be taken thirty days after notice is provided of the information.

The Disciplinary Hearing Panel is made up of two attorneys and a non-attorney.  The matter is handled through an evidentiary hearing where both the prosecutor and attorney facing charges can present documentary evidence and introduce witness testimony.  Typically, the complainant will be asked to testify under oath.  The panel will determine if a violation has occurred and take one of the following steps:

  • Dismiss the case based on lack of evidence to support the charges
  • Issue a written admonition which becomes part of an attorney’s public record
  • Reprimand
  • Suspension (with or without probation)
  • Disbarment

The administrative decision can be appealed by either party to the Supreme Court of Missouri.  This appeal will typically involve the submission of written briefs and oral argument.  Although attorneys subject to charges can agree on a disposition of the matter with the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, this should never be viewed as a final disposition.  The Supreme Court of Missouri reviews any recommendation of the Disciplinary Hearing Panel before the orders become final.

The bottom line is that retaining an experienced attorney to represent you when you are facing allegations of ethical violations can prevent your career from being derailed.  If you are facing a complaint, Kansas Professional Responsibility Defense Attorney Danielle Sanger represents attorneys in Missouri or Kansas, so call us today for a free consultation at 785-979-4353.