Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Ignoring a State Bar Letter Will Not Make It Disappear

denialDenial is a powerful and destructive force.

It can wreck relationships, derail careers and damage lives.

It is insidious. It sneaks up behind us when we least expect it. It grips us when we are at our most vulnerable. It burrows deep into our subconscious where it is not easily rooted out.

And the longer it stays there unattended the more powerful it grows.

The dark power of denial was brought home to me back when I was representing attorneys before the State Bar.

The Case of the Unopened Correspondence

A lawyer came to see me because he was being brought before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission on ethics charges. He was a fine lawyer who had been practicing longer than I had. He had a good reputation and was involved in his community.

The DHC complaint stemmed from a mundane family law matter. His client had reported him to the State Bar for charging an excessive fee and for not doing much work on her case.

He brought a thick file with him to our meeting. He proceeded to tell me how his big mistake was accepting the case in the first place. That was certainly true. But as I flipped through the file a much bigger mistake became evident. I pulled out letter after letter from the State Bar. Some of these Letters of Notice were certified. Most had never been opened.

Talk about avoidance and denial. Naturally, one of the allegations in the DHC complaint was failure to respond to the State Bar.

I explained that he had an ethical duty to respond to the State Bar and that not doing so was itself grounds for discipline. He was not really interested in hearing any of this. Instead, he wanted me to know how difficult his client had been, how ungrateful she was, and how he had gone above and beyond in his efforts to help her.

I kept pointing to the unopened letters. He seemed to not even see them.

That’s when it hit me. This was the awful power of Denial at work. It was as if a huge boulder had been placed between my client and reality. He was unable to even see the stack of unopened letters sitting there on the table, much less acknowledge how they happened to get there.

Obstructive Power of Denial

This was an example of what Dr. George Simon calls the “obstructive power of denial.”

We don’t like getting bad news. We don’t like making mistakes. We don’t like owning up to our shortcomings.

These things take the fun out of the day. It’s much easier to put them on the shelf or toss them in the trashcan and move on to other, more pleasant pursuits.

Easier, perhaps, in the short-term. But self-defeating and dangerous in the long run.

Hiding our heads under the covers doesn’t protect us from the monsters at night. It only makes them stronger.

A healthier strategy is to turn on the light. We might not like what we see, but at least we’ll know what we’re facing. And that is step one in defeating them.

Source: Counseling Resource

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He is a former Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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