Karen Clark 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Received a phone call from state bar counsel lately? If not, don’t be surprised if you do someday! What every lawyer needs to know about how to respond. Under the new lawyer discipline system, all initial inquiries are handled by the State Bar’s intake office – called the “Attorney Consumer Assistance Program” (ACAP). ACAP handles every bar inquiry or charge (known by its vernacular as a “bar complaint”) that comes in the state bar’s door. First, ACAP bar counsel decides whether the inquiry meets the “screening threshold”: the allegation, if true, violates the ethical rules. If so, then ACAP bar counsel determines whether the matter can be handled in ACAP, or referred for a full “screening” investigation by the Lawyer Regulation Office (LRO). So what bar charges are handled in ACAP? Anything that bar counsel thinks is likely to end in either dismissal or diversion. In order to make that determination, ACAP bar counsel might need to get some information from you. They can do that by writing you a letter, telling you that they are conducting an “informal” or “prescreening” investigation. But under the new discipline system, they are increasingly calling lawyers on the phone to ask them about the charges. That means that someday, you might get called – directly – by ACAP bar counsel, asking you for information about something you did. So, what should you do if that happens? The answer is – don’t panic! The fact that ACAP bar counsel is calling you means that they think the answers you give them will result in the bar charge either being dismissed or, if it appears to involve low-level misconduct that is otherwise eligible, referred to a state bar diversion program. So even though it may cause your stress level to rise – ok, shoot through the roof - there is some good news in the fact that they are calling you, instead of sending you one of those dreaded red-stamped “confidential” envelopes, containing a formal screening letter. Still, you want to take the inquiry seriously. It may sound obvious – but don’t delay in responding to bar counsel’s call. Lawyers often freeze up when dealing with the State Bar: don’t make that mistake. Also, be sure you clearly understand what bar counsel’s concerns are. You must only ever give bar counsel 100% accurate information. So, if you cannot remember what happened without undertaking some investigation first (like pulling a file), ask for time to do so: never guess. And remember: if you need help responding to the state bar, don’t be afraid to ask. You have the right to get help if you need it - and bar counsel will not object.
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