Ethics and Discipline

Citizens have a right to expect a high level of professional service from their lawyers. In Missouri, lawyers have a code of ethics that guides their practice. These standards are set out in rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Missouri. The Supreme Court also has an advisory committee that may issue formal opinions under Rule 5.03.

When lawyers fail to meet the ethical standard, they are subject to disciplinary action. The Supreme Court of Missouri manages the state's lawyer discipline system through its Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. A lawyer accused of professional misconduct may request a hearing to be held before a disciplinary hearing panel made up of two lawyers and one lay person. If a panel finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the lawyer is guilty of misconduct, the panel makes findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations for discipline, which then are filed in the Supreme Court. It is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to determine any discipline to be taken against the lawyer. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 5.31, disciplinary hearings are open to the public. Information about disciplinary hearings pending are available from the legal ethics counsel's website.

Complaints concerning alleged misconduct of judges and judicial commission members – and requests for the retirement of judges because of disability – are handled by the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline.

Supreme Court Disciplinary Actions

The Supreme Court of Missouri imposes discipline against attorneys by order or opinion in the form of reprimands, suspensions (with or without probation) and disbarments. The Court’s decision whether to impose discipline and what discipline to impose is not bound by any agreement made by the parties as to the discipline they believe should be imposed. This Court may agree to the discipline the parties suggest, or it may impose a greater or lesser discipline depending on the facts of a particular case. The Court will place all of its orders and opinions imposing discipline on the Web site.

Some cases are resolved without coming before this Court, by means such as diversions, substance abuse interventions, admonitions, fee dispute resolutions or other informal resolutions that are worked out by the parties and are designed to assist the lawyer and resolve minor disputes with clients. These are not referred to the Court, and the Court does not issue orders or opinions in such cases.

The Supreme Court's disciplinary orders and opinions, dating back to January 1, 2006, are available online. The Court's group orders pursuant to Rule 5.245 suspending attorneys for tax issues are available online dating back to January 1, 2011.