Disbarment Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Disbarment, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Disbarment?

n. The removal of an attorney’s license to practice law, often for right. This ultimate discipline only results after investigation and opportunities for the attorney to explain his/her improper conduct. Possibly after rehabilitation and/or cure, an attorney may be reinstated.

History and Definition of Disbarment

Disbarment is an ultimate disciplinary action taken against attorneys for their misconduct or malpractice, which results in the revocation of their license to practice law, making them ineligible to represent any clients in court. This action is taken only after a thorough investigation is conducted to prove the allegations against the attorney or if they have failed to comply with the ethical standards of the legal profession.

Disbarment has evolved over time from the informal expulsion of lawyers in the early 1800s to a formalized process accompanied by a set of rules and standards. The modern legal system mandated strict compliance with the ethical code of conduct, and attorneys who misrepresent facts in court or indulge in unethical behavior are subjected to disciplinary action, including disbarment.

Examples of Disbarment

  1. In 2019, the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Michael Cohen, a former lawyer of President Trump, after he was sentenced to a three-year prison term for crimes including tax fraud and violation of campaign finance laws.
  2. In 2016, the Florida Bar disbarred an attorney for misappropriating $110,000 of client funds and using them to pay off personal debt.
  3. In 2009, Pennsylvania attorney Marc Robert Steinberg was disbarred for eight years after he was found guilty of representing clients while he was suspended from practicing law.

Legal Terms Similar to Disbarment

  1. Suspension – temporary revocation of an attorney's license to practice law.
  2. Censure – an official reprimand for an attorney's wrongdoing, without taking away their license to practice law.
  3. Injunction - a court order to prohibit or allow specific actions to be taken.