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Disbarment is the disciplinary withdrawal of an attorney’s privilege to practice law by sanctioning the attorney’s license to practice law. It is the most severe sanction for attorney misconduct. A disbarment proceeding is an investigation by the state bar regarding the conduct of a member of the bar in order to determine whether the attorney will be disbarred. 

A disbarment proceeding is not an adversarial lawsuit with the formalities of common law pleading and judgment, so technical legal defenses cannot be called upon to aid in response to the charge

The purpose of a disbarment proceeding is to remove unfit attorneys from practicing in court. The highest court in any state has inherent judiciary power to regulate conduct of attorneys practicing in that state. The court then delegates considerable power to the state bar association, which then establishes the rules of conduct for lawyers and investigates and punishes violations of these rules through professional discipline: reprimand, suspension, and disbarment.

Under the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct regarding imposing sanctions after a finding of lawyer misconduct, the state bar association shall consider the following factors:

  • 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 January of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]