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 countries.
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.
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. 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.
Notable U.S. disbarments
The 20th Century saw 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.
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