By virtue of state law, the highest court of each state generally delegates authority to state bar organizations to oversee, monitor, and discipline licensed attorneys within the state. This includes the vested authority to suspend or revoke licenses.
Generally, each state bar has an attorney grievance section that reviews and adjudicates complaints received. Procedural due process requires that the subject attorney receive notice of the substance of the complaint received. Additionally, the attorney must be granted sufficient time to prepare a response (usually first in writing, then finally, in a hearing). Because suspension or revocation of a license interferes with an attorney’s ability to be gainfully employed, adverse decisions may be appealed in a court of law. Courts of law do not have the power to suspend or revoke an attorney’s license. Their jurisdiction is limited to appellate review of a state bar’s action.
However, outside of the bar association forum, an attorney may also be sued for legal malpractice in a court of law. If a judgment is entered against him or her, the damages are compensatory in nature (usually in the form of a monetary judgment) and payable to the complainant; the court cannot suspend or revoke the attorney’s license as part of the award in the lawsuit. Notwithstanding, notice of the adverse judgment may then be forwarded to the state bar for review. It is the state bar organization that will decide whether the judgment against the attorney substantively represented a breach in the model rules, code of conduct, or code of ethics such that a suspension or revocation of the license to practice law is warranted.