Legal careers depend on attorneys remaining in good standing with the North Carolina State Bar. However, thorny ethical situations, financial and accounting difficulties, physical and mental health, and even disgruntled clients can threaten a lawyer’s license and ability to practice law.
Patterson Harkavy’s lawyers have actively participated in the drafting and interpretation of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, and we have successfully advised and defended lawyers facing tough ethical questions and complaints that could jeopardize their professional reputations and their livelihoods.
With offices in Chapel Hill and Greensboro, our ethics defense attorneys have successfully advised lawyers and achieved notable results representing lawyers at all levels of the North Carolina State Bar disciplinary process. Contact us toll-free at 1 (800) 458-2541 to see if we can help.
The best defense is a good offense, and the best way for North Carolina lawyers to avoid an ethics complaint is to make sure their conduct is ethically sound in the first place. Practicing lawyers often face situations that do not fall squarely within the language of the Rules of Professional Conduct or Formal Ethics Opinions that interpret the Rules. Drawing on decades of experience advising and defending lawyers in those situations, we provide confidential ethics advice to lawyers who want to make sure they do everything on the front end to protect their license and privilege to practice law.
The North Carolina State Bar must investigate most allegations of professional misconduct, regardless of merit. The investigation routinely involves notifying the lawyer and giving the lawyer an opportunity to respond.
Receiving a Letter of Notice with a Substance of Grievance from the State Bar is one of the most stressful things a lawyer can face, and responding is one of the most important things a lawyer can do. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and a lawyer’s initial response to a grievance often determines whether an allegation of ethical misconduct proceeds any further or remains confidential.
With thorough disclosures informed by our experienced advocacy in simple and complex ethical issues, we have helped many lawyers successfully respond to grievances, keep the resolution of those cases confidential, and avoid further public litigation of them.
When allegations of ethical misconduct cannot be resolved at the initial grievance level, the State Bar Office of Counsel is directed to file a public complaint against the lawyer on behalf of the State Bar Grievance Committee. From that point forward, the process is similar to a civil lawsuit in two phases before a three-member panel of the State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission. That process does not have to end in professional disaster.
The State Bar Counsel must first prove one or more violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence. If that burden is met, both sides may present additional evidence regarding the appropriate discipline, which may be anything from an admonition to disbarment. Experienced advocacy at this stage often makes the difference between the lawyer’s ability or inability to continue practicing law.
In some cases, the threat to a lawyer’s practice may come before a grievance or complaint is even filed. Under certain circumstances, the Chair of the Disciplinary Hearing Commission may enter an interim suspension of a lawyer’s license, similar to a temporary restraining order, pending resolution of formal allegations of professional misconduct. Lawyers have a procedural right to defend their practice of law until given a full and fair opportunity to defend against allegations of professional misconduct.
At Patterson Harkavy, we have significant experience helping lawyers defend their cases at all levels of the Disciplinary Hearing Commission process, through carefully balancing their ethical obligations, confidentiality of their clients’ interests, and the need to develop their own defense.
Brad Bannon has lectured on and taught legal ethics at all of North Carolina’s law schools and published several articles on the subject. He is serving his seventh year as an Advisory Member of the North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee. Before that service, he was actively involved in the State Bar’s process of crafting ethical rules and opinions for lawyers who represent the criminally accused and convicted. He is well positioned to evaluate ethics issues and complaints facing his fellow lawyers and to provide them with guidance and a defense of their practice of law. He understands the disciplinary process and what it takes to effectively navigate it, even in the face of claims of severe or complicated ethical misconduct.
If you are facing a difficult ethical question or State Bar grievance, you need ethics defense lawyers with proven experience defending the law licenses of attorneys across North Carolina. Call Patterson Harkavy at 1-800-458-2541 or contact us online today.