Disbarment is the most severe sanction for attorney misconduct, which involves the removal of an attorney's license to practice law. Since the court has exclusive responsibility to license lawyers, it has sole authority / discretion to remove the license; less severe sanctions like suspension, probation, and reprimand can also be used to sanction misconduct when appropriate.
Causes of disbarment may include: a felony involving moral turpitude, forgery, fraud, a history of dishonesty, consistent lack of attention to clients, alcoholism or drug abuse which affect the attorney's ability to practice, theft of funds, or any pattern of violation of the professional code of ethics.
Procedures and rules applicable to sanctions for attorney misconduct vary by state. In states that have adopted American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which includes every state but California, disbarment in one state or court is grounds for disbarment in other jurisdictions that have adopted the Model Rules.
Under American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the court or board shall consider the following factors when imposing sanctions after a finding of lawyer misconduct:
- Whether the lawyer has violated a duty owed to a client, to the public to the legal system, or to the profession;
- Whether the lawyer acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently;
- The amount of the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer’s misconduct; and
- The existence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.
[Last updated in August of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]