Disbarment is the removal of a lawyer from a bar association and/or the practice of law, thus revoking his or her law license and/or admission to practice law. Procedures vary depending on the law society.


In the U.S.


Generally disbarment is imposed as a sanction for conduct indicating that an attorney is not fit to practice law, willfully disregarding the interests of a client, or engaging in fraud which impedes the administration of justice. In addition, any lawyer who is convicted of a felony is automatically disbarred in most jurisdictions, a policy that, although opposed by the American Bar Association, has been described as a convicted felon's just deserts.[1]

In the United States legal system, disbarment is specific to regions; one can be disbarred from some courts, while still being a member of the bar in another jurisdiction. However, under the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted in most states, disbarment in one state or court is grounds for disbarment in a jurisdiction which has adopted the Model Rules.

Disbarment is quite rare.[citation needed] Instead, lawyers are usually sanctioned by their own clients through civil malpractice proceedings, or via fine, censure, suspension, or other punishments from the disciplinary boards. To be disbarred is considered a great embarrassment and shame, even if one no longer wishes to pursue a career in the law; it is akin, in effect, to a dishonorable discharge in a military situation.

Because disbarment rules vary by area, different rules can apply depending on where a lawyer is disbarred. Notably, the majority of US states have no procedure for permanently disbarring a person. Depending on the jurisdiction, a lawyer may reapply to the bar immediately, after five to seven years, or be banned for life.[2]

Notable U.S. disbarments

The 20th and the 21st centuries have seen one former U.S. president and one former U.S. vice-president disbarred, and another president be both suspended from one bar and resign from another bar rather than face disbarment.

Former Vice President Spiro Agnew, having pleaded no contest (which subjects a person to the same criminal penalties as a guilty plea, but is not an admission of guilt for a civil suit) to charges of bribery and tax evasion, was disbarred from Maryland, the state of which he had previously been governor.

Former President Richard Nixon was disbarred from New York in 1976[3] for obstruction of justice related to the Watergate scandal.

In 2000 the Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct called for the disbarment of President Bill Clinton, saying he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In January 2001 Clinton reached an agreement under which he was ordered to pay $25,000 in fines to Arkansas state's bar officials and his Arkansas law license was suspended for five years.[4] The agreement came on the condition that Whitewater prosecutors would not pursue federal perjury charges against him.[5] Clinton was suspended by the Supreme Court in October 2001, and, facing disbarment from that court, Clinton resigned from the Supreme Court bar in November.[6]

Alger Hiss was disbarred for a felony conviction, but later became the first person reinstated to the bar in Massachusetts after disbarment.[7]

In 2007, Mike Nifong, the District Attorney of Durham County, North Carolina who presided over the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case, was disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct related to his handling of the case.[8]

Jack Thompson, the Florida lawyer noted for his activism against video games, was permanently disbarred for various charges of misconduct. The action was the result of several grievances claiming that Thompson had made defamatory, false statements and attempted to humiliate, embarrass, harass or intimidate his opponents. The order was made on September 25, 2008, effective October 25. However, Thompson attempted to appeal to the higher courts in order to avoid the penalty actually taking effect.[9] Neither the US District court, nor the US Supreme Court[10] would hear his appeal, rendering the judgement of the Florida Supreme Court final.

Ed Fagan, a New York lawyer who prominently representated for Holocaust victims against Swiss banks, was disbarred in New York (in 2008)[11] and New Jersey (in 2009) for failing to pay court fines and fees; and for misappropriating client and escrow trust funds.[12][13]

F. Lee Bailey, noted criminal defense attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, was disbarred by the state of Florida in 2001, with reciprocal disbarment in Massachusetts in 2002. The Florida disbarment was the result of his handling of stock in the DuBoc marijuana case. Bailey was found guilty of 7 counts of attorney misconduct by the Florida Supreme Court. Bailey had transferred a large portion of DuBoc's assets into his own accounts, using the interest gained on those assets to pay for personal expenses. In March 2005, Bailey filed to regain his law license in Massachusetts. The book Florida Pulp Nonfiction details the peculiar facts of the DuBoc case along with extended interviews with Bailey that include his own defense.[14]

See also

  • List of disbarments in the United States


  1. ^ Gentile, Michael A.; McShea, Sarah Diane (1985-1986), Automatic Disbarment: A Convicted Felon's Just Desserts, 13, Hastings Const. L.Q., pp. 433 
  2. ^ Finkelstein, Brian (2007). "Should Permanent Disbarment be Permanent?". The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3975/is_200707/ai_n19511820/pg_2. 
  3. ^ http://www.history.com/exhibits/impeach/whthous1.html
  4. ^ "Clinton to contest Supreme Court suspension". CNN. October 2, 2001. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/LAW/10/01/scotus.clinton/. Retrieved December 21, 2006. 
  5. ^ "Bill Clinton Disbarment to End". AP/11alive.com. January 18, 2006. http://www.11alive.com/rss/article.aspx?storyid=74815. Retrieved December 21, 2006. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Clinton asks to quit Supreme Court Bar". CNN.com. November 9, 2001. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/11/09/clinton.bar/. Retrieved September 20, 2007. 
  7. ^ iWannaGetThat - Retroville - 1948 - In the News - Alger Hiss
  8. ^ ABC News: Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Disbarred
  9. ^ http://kotaku.com/5054772/jack-thompson-disbarred
  10. ^ http://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/042009zor.pdf
  11. ^ Noeleen G. Walder. Lawyer Disbarred for Failing to Pay Sanctions, Fees in Holocaust Case. New York Law Journal. December 12, 2008. http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202426698941
  12. ^ Koloff, Abbott. NJ: Disbar ex-Parsippany lawyer for stealing from Holocaust survivors. Daily Record. January 22, 2009.
  13. ^ Fuchs, Mary (January 24, 2009). "Lawyer Edward Fagan is disbarred in N.J. for misusing Holocaust victims' funds". New Jersey Real-Time News. Retrieved on October 14, 2009.
  14. ^ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7153568/

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  • disbarment — index disqualification (rejection), exclusion, expulsion, ostracism Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • disbarment — UK US /dɪsˈbɑːmənt/ noun [U] LAW ► the act of taking away someone s right to work as a lawyer, especially because they have done something wrong or illegal, or the situation of having this right taken away from you: »Following disbarment in New… …   Financial and business terms

  • Disbarment — Dis*bar ment, n. Act of disbarring. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • disbarment — See disbar. * * * ▪ law       the process whereby an attorney is deprived of his license or privileges for failure to carry out his practice in accordance with established standards. Temporary suspension may be employed if some lesser punishment… …   Universalium

  • disbarment — Act of court in suspending attorney s license to practice law. A disbarment proceeding is neither civil nor criminal action; it is special proceeding peculiar to itself, disciplinary in nature, and of summary character resulting from inherent… …   Black's law dictionary

  • disbarment — Act of court in suspending attorney s license to practice law. A disbarment proceeding is neither civil nor criminal action; it is special proceeding peculiar to itself, disciplinary in nature, and of summary character resulting from inherent… …   Black's law dictionary

  • disbarment — The revocation by judgment or order of court of the right of an attorney at law to practice. 7 Am J2d Attys § 12. See grounds for disbarment …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • disbarment — disbar ► VERB (disbarred, disbarring) 1) expel (a barrister) from the Bar. 2) exclude. DERIVATIVES disbarment noun …   English terms dictionary

  • disbarment — noun see disbar …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • disbarment — noun The disqualification of a lawyer from membership in a bar association, usually as punishment for wrongdoing; the result of being disbarred …   Wiktionary

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