Regulation and Discipline
What We Do
Monitoring the integrity and ethical practice of a legal profession that serves nearly 40 million Caliifornians is at the core of the State Bar’s public protection mission. The agency investigates and prosecutes complaints against attorneys and works with law enforcement to stop those who falsely hold themselves out as attorneys. The State Bar also distributes restitution-type funds to victims who have incurred financial loss as a result of attorney theft or dishonest conduct.
The State Bar Discipline System Includes
Total complaints processed
Complaints against attorneys or those engaging in the unauthorized practice of law come from many sources, including clients, judicial officers, insurance companies, and other attorneys.
placed on probation
Forms of discipline that are typically less permanent than disbarment. Most require the attorney to comply with a variety of conditions before being allowed to return to practice.
Discipline that revokes a license to practice in California.
Attorneys in court-ordered Lawyer Assistance Program
Some attorneys whose misconduct stems from a substance use or mental health issue receive recovery support through this attorney-funded program.
All attorneys contribute to a fund that reimburses lost money or property due to theft or dishonest conduct by a California lawyer.
A one-time mandatory increase will double the funds available for distribution in 2020.
Key Metrics – How Well We Do It
The State Bar collects detailed data on the attorney discipline system: its workload, operations, initiatives, and performance in fulfilling its statutory obligation to protect the public from attorney misconduct. Regular metrics reporting is used to manage this critical State Bar function as well as to facilitate external accountability.
Increasing access and improving decision-making with data
OCTC, the State Bar Court, and the Office of Probation deployed a new case management system in 2019–Odyssey. Odyssey enables the unprecedented use of data to inform case processing and staffing decisions. The benefit of increased access to data has come at some cost; data entry time has increased, and there has been a significant learning curve associated with deployment of the new system.
Odyssey has also increased the public’s access to case information. Its public portal, provided at no charge and without requiring a login, enables the public to access case records and calendars through search functionality that previously did not exist.
Focusing on fairness and efficacy
2019 saw novel action by the State Bar to ensure the fairness of the attorney discipline system. A groundbreaking study commissioned to identify racial and ethnic disparities in probation and disbarment rates was completed. In addition, the State Bar launched procedural fairness surveys—to be completed by both complainants and attorneys investigated for misconduct—with the goal of ensuring that everyone experiences a fair process, even if they do not agree with the result.
The State Bar has also adopted new metrics to enable performance accountability. In 2019, the Board of Trustees began regularly reviewing data on the rate at which attorneys who in the past have received warning or resource letters or reprovals, or who have been placed on probation, come back through the discipline system.
Fingerprinting to support public protection
In 2019, the State Bar completed an ambitious effort to refingerprint over 190,000 active California attorneys. This was done to ensure that the State Bar receives information from the California Department of Justice whenever a licensee commits a crime. As a result of this effort, the State Bar received notification of over 8,000 criminal cases. By the end of the 2019, these notifications had resulted in new conviction information for more than 2,300 attorneys. 2020 OCTC workload is expected to reflect the impact of the influx of cases that flow from these conviction notifications.