Priorities and Prevention
The State Bar's attorney discipline system gives a high priority to the more serious cases of attorney misconduct.
Rather than handling all cases — the most serious to the most minor — in the same way, special "strike teams" focus on lawyers and practices posing the greatest threat to the public.
The bar also has expanded prevention and diversion programs intended to help lawyers stay out of trouble or get back on track. Some of these programs offer alternative ways of handling minor misconduct and others —collectively tagged the "prevention center"— provide various forms of attorney assistance.
Minor Misconduct Program
In cases involving the least serious kinds of misconduct with little or no public harm, the accused lawyers are informed that they may have violated the State Bar Act or Rules of Professional Conduct. They are encouraged to comply with the rules in the future. Examples of such complaints include a lawyer's improper retention of a client file, short-term lack of communication with a client and failure to honor a medical lien.
First-time Substance Abuse Conviction Referral
Attorneys convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or similar offenses, may avoid discipline if they successfully undergo certain treatment programs.
Agreements in Lieu of Discipline
By entering into such an agreement, an attorney could be required to fulfill nearly any type of remedial condition deemed appropriate for his or her case rather than face an investigation and prosecution.
Ethics Hotline: This toll-free confidential service (1-800-2-ETHICS) provides California attorneys with assistance on routine ethical questions. In 1997, the hotline staff answered 21,021 calls and distributed 1,865 packets of local and State Bar ethics opinions to interested parties.
Ethics Opinions: The State Bar's Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct issues ethics opinions. These non-binding, advisory opinions respond to questions posed by bar groups or individual members.
California Compendium on Professional Responsibility
California Compendium on Professional Responsibility: The State Bar publishes this multi-volume desk reference on professional responsibility. It is a compilation of local, state and national ethics information, which is updated annually.
Lawyer Assistance Program
Lawyer Assistance Program: Two independent consultants provide confidential referral services to attorneys suffering from job burnout, stress and/or chemical dependency. Bar consultants conduct assessments, referrals and follow-up. Classes, videotapes and brochures also are available.
Ethics School and the Client Trust Accounting program
Ethics School and the Client Trust Accounting program: Ethics School covers the Rules of Professional Conduct, law office management and chemical dependency. The Client Trust Accounting program is intended to help attorneys fulfill their statutory and ethical obligations to clients whose money and property they hold in trust. Recent rule changes require all disciplined attorneys to attend Ethics School. In addition, MCLE credit is now available to other attorneys who satisfactorily complete the program. Also available is an hour-long videotape capturing the highlights of the original Ethics School course.