As a solicitor, you have a lot of responsibility to stay on the right side of the law, but what happens if you don’t? These 10 common reasons for disbarment will give you a taste…
In any job, there’s a level of responsibility a person must take in order to do their job effectively and professionally. That said, there are some job roles that require another level of discipline. This is because the jobs are a matter of life and death.
Some examples of these roles include emergency services, like doctors, policemen and women, and the fire brigade. But what about solicitors?
After committing an act of professional misconduct, a solicitor will face an SRA disciplinary tribunal. This will assess how bad the misconduct was, what sort of disciplinary action they will face, and whether it constitutes a disbarment. But what actions may provoke this serious punishment?
What is Disbarment?
Disbarment occurs when a lawyer is removed from the bar – the legal profession as an institution – and can no longer practice law. This revokes their license, and acts as a punishment for unethical or criminal conduct whilst on the job.
Because the court licenses lawyers, they have the authority to remove this license when they see fit. After all, a solicitor has the power to make or break somebody’s life; a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Although disbarment can be revoked, it is the most severe sanction and is regarded as a permanent fixture, unless under specific circumstances. Because of this, the disbarment will only occur if:
- The lawyer violated their duty to their client, the legal profession, or the legal system in any of the ways described below.
- The solicitor acted intentionally, so they knew what they were doing.
- Their act was negligent, causing potential injury to their client or someone else.
- There’s a pattern of misconduct.
10 Common Reasons for Disbarment
Although there are many reasons a solicitor might be struck off the bar, these 10 reasons should give you an indication of the sort of actions that would constitute this punishment:
One of the most common reasons solicitors can be disbarred is theft from their client. For example, say a solicitor has been hired to take care of a client’s trust. They have a duty of care to their client to look after the money, and do with it only what they’ve been hired to do.
In some cases, the solicitor may be tempted to dip into this trust for their own personal use. This, alone, is one of the most common causes of disbarment.
2. Fraud and Forgery
Fraud and forgery are also up there with some of the most common reasons a solicitor may be disbarred. Whether it be forging evidence in trial or not delivering on a service that was promised, and taking client money anyway, these could all lead to a disbarment. Even if the solicitor hires someone else to embezzle money, or the like, they are still liable for this crime.
For example, even if you don’t outright steal money from your clients, you can still face repercussions if you take their money without delivering a proper service. Pretending to do work in order to be paid for it is an act of fraud against the client.
Another example might be marrying a client due to the knowledge of their large fortune. If it’s found that this marriage was fraudulent – based solely for the purpose of selfish gain – a disbarment is on the cards.
3. Consistent Lack of Attention
We’ve mentioned the duty of care a solicitor has to their client and the legal profession. So, if this duty is not met due to a pattern of carelessness, this could lead to disbarment.
This lack of care could be either towards the client or the case, which puts clients at risk of their lives being changed forever. Hence the hefty punishment; a pattern of wrong turns in the court room could very well lead to the wrong person being convicted for a crime.
4. Moral Turpitude
Any criminal act that reflects badly on the solicitor’s honesty and trustworthiness can cause disbarment. This is the definition between criminal acts that will and won’t provoke a disbarment.
Basically, if you commit a felony that doesn’t say something about your fitness as a lawyer, your job might be safe. However, how many criminal acts can you name that don’t bring moral compass and character into question? Not many; it’s a fine line.
5. Criminal Conviction
Speaking of felonies, most criminal convictions will lead to a disbarment. If a crime is committed by a lawyer, and the case is reviewed to conclude that it involved moral turpitude, this will lead to a disbarment.
Legal Cheek has deducted that around 0.7 percent of practicing barristers have a criminal conviction. Most of these convictions included drink driving. This only includes those who have reported their criminal record, so this number could be more.
As you can see, crime alone may not cause a disbarment. A crime that smacks of dishonesty, however, like fraud or drug smuggling, will.
6. Alcohol or Drug Abuse
Excessive alcohol or drug use which affects a solicitor’s practice could also lead to a disbarment.
This is perhaps one of the only scenarios a solicitor may be disbarred and then reinstated. After all, many people abuse substances due to mental health reasons, and no one can be punished for this. Once the solicitor can prove they are no longer abusing the substances, they may be reinstated.
7. Sexual Relations with a Client
Any solicitor who engages in sexual relations with a client, whether in exchange for their services or not, will be disbarred. This especially includes when the sexual relations were coerced, forced, or committed due to undue influence or intimidation. However, even if the client was willing, this will still likely lead to disbarment.
8. Contempt of the Court
A solicitor may also be at risk of being disbarred if they wilfully disobey the court, meaning their actions are detrimental to the judicial process. For example, they might violate a court order by aiding a separated father to contact their child without the court’s permission.
Again, this should only be followed through if there is a clear pattern in disregard for the court.
9. Frivolous Litigation
If a lawyer maintains a pattern of filing frivolous lawsuits, this may also lead to a disbarment. Especially if these lawsuits harm an individual or the administration of justice, this can lead to severe punishment.
10. Pattern of Conduct Against the Code of Ethics
The code of conduct acts much like the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath. It is the rules and regulations a solicitor must follow in order to do their job properly, and to avoid disbarment. Some of these rules include:
- Not unfairly discriminating by allowing your personal views to affect your relationship with a client.
- Not misleading clients.
- You must perform your duties within a reasonable amount of time.
- You should not seek to influence anyone, be it a client, a juror, a defendant, or a witness.
- You should only make assertions and statements in the court that are arguable.
- You should not waste the court’s time.
You can find the full code of ethics for solicitors on the SRA website. If any of these regulations are consistently unmet, a disbarment may be on the horizon.
Ready to be the Best Solicitor Out There?
These are just some of the many reasons a solicitor might be disbarred. For a full idea of what it takes to be a lawyer with integrity, reading the full code of ethics above is your best bet. If you follow these rules, and work every case with honesty and attention to detail, you should remain on the right side of the law.
Don’t jeopardise your career and life, and do everything you can to be a solicitor people want to work with. We hope this article has provided you with the starting points to do just that.