Disciplinary Proceedings Before the State Bar of Texas

Under Texas law, the State Bar of Texas (the “Bar”) licenses attorneys and is authorized to monitor attorneys for ethical compliance with Bar rules and state laws.

The Initiation of Disciplinary Proceedings Before the State Bar of Texas

Any member of the public, including other attorneys and judges, can file a formal grievance in writing against an attorney with the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel (CDC) of the State Bar of Texas. The CDC investigates allegations that attorneys have violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules set forth the standards of conduct that all attorneys in Texas must uphold and follow. Since even mere allegations of violations can negatively affect your career, you must take immediate action if you receive notice from the CDC that someone has filed a formal complaint or grievance against you. 

Classification of Grievances Filed with the CDC

The Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct govern the disciplinary process for grievances filed against attorneys. Once an individual submits a grievance and any supporting documentation, the CDC determines whether it alleges professional misconduct or a violation of the disciplinary rules. This process, which the CDC refers to as the “classification” of the grievance, must occur within 30 days of the date that the CDC receives the grievance. Any grievances that do not allege professional misconduct within the meaning of the disciplinary rules that apply to lawyers are dismissed as inquiries. 

However, grievances that allege professional misconduct are classified as complaints and sent to the attorney who is the subject of the grievance for a response. The attorney has 30 days from the date of its receipt to respond to the complaint. 

If the attorney disagrees with the classification of the grievance as a complaint, then the attorney may appeal the classification decision to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals (BODA). Likewise, if the complaining party disagrees with the classification of a grievance as an inquiry, they also can appeal the classification to BODA. The Supreme Court of Texas appoints 12 attorneys to serve on BODA, a purely independent board.        

If BODA agrees with the appealing attorney that the grievance was improperly classified as a complaint, the State Bar will dismiss the grievance. However, if BODA agrees that the State Bar properly classified the grievance as a complaint, it returns to the CDC for a full investigation. 

Similarly, if BODA agrees with the complaining party that the grievance was improperly classified as an inquiry, the grievance will go to the CDC for a full investigation. On the other hand, if BODA agrees with the CDC that the grievance was properly classified as an inquiry, then the CDC will take no further action on the grievance. 

The CDC and Just Cause Determinations

The CDC’s goal is to determine whether there is just cause to believe that the attorney who is the subject of the grievance committed the alleged professional misconduct. An investigation can include any of the following actions:

  • Requesting additional information from the complaining party, the attorney, or third-party witness(es);
  • Obtaining billing records, correspondence, phone records, court records, IOLTA or trust account statements, state bar records, client files, and other necessary documents; and
  • Conducting witness interviews and obtaining sworn statements.

The CDC has 60 days to make a just cause determination. Depending on the investigation’s outcome, the CDC will either submit the complaint to a grievance panel for dismissal or move forward with disciplinary proceedings. If the CDC finds no just cause to proceed with the complaint, it presents the complaint to a Summary Disposition Panel, which is comprised of two-thirds lawyers and one-third public grievance committee members. Neither the complaining party nor the attorney who is the subject of the complaint are present at a summary disposition panel hearing. This Panel can either accept or reject the CDC’s just cause determination. If the Panel rejects the CDC’s determination, the complaint will proceed. 

If the CDC finds just cause that the attorney committed professional misconduct, it gives the lawyer written notice of the allegations and findings. The attorney has 20 days to decide whether to have the case heard before an evidentiary panel of the grievance committee or before a district court, either with or without a jury. The complaint automatically goes to a hearing before a grievance committee panel if the attorney fails to make this decision. 

If the proceedings occur before a grievance committee, they are confidential, and the least severe sanction available is a private reprimand. In contrast, if the proceedings occur before a district court, they are public, and the least severe sanction available is a public reprimand. 

In either case, the CDC represents the Commission for Lawyer Discipline and has the burden of proving the allegations of professional misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence. If the CDC fails to meet its burden of proof, the case is dismissed. However, if the CDC does meet its burden of proof, and there is a finding of professional misconduct, there may be a separate hearing to determine the appropriate sanction, which could include a reprimand, a license suspension, a license revocation, or various other remedies. 


The disciplinary process overseen by the State Bar of Texas is a comprehensive framework designed to uphold the integrity and standards of the legal profession. From the initiation of grievances to the determination of just cause and potential disciplinary actions, every step is governed by established rules and procedures aimed at ensuring fairness and accountability. While the process involves multiple stages and avenues for appeal, the overarching goal remains the protection of the public interest and the maintenance of ethical standards within the legal community. Attorneys facing grievances must navigate this process diligently, seeking legal counsel when necessary to protect their rights and interests. Ultimately, the disciplinary process serves as a vital mechanism for upholding the trust and confidence that the public places in the legal profession.

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We Will Represent Your Interests Before the State Bar

The experienced law license defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP, will advocate on your behalf in your disciplinary proceedings to help you avoid or minimize negative sanctions against your license. We can investigate your pending complaint, assess the allegations against you and the evidence supporting them, explore all potential options, and arrive at the defense that is most likely to be effective in your case. Together, we will work to resolve your complaint and protect your professional license. Call us at (512) 515-9518 or contact us online.

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