Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

The State Bar is Hotel California. Who Knew?

California License PlateI never knew when I joined the North Carolina State Bar that I was signing up for life.

But then I read the latest State Bar Journal and learned that membership is like the Hotel California: you can check out – by death or disbarment – but you can never leave.

The article in question is “Hello! You Must Be Going!” by Executive Director Tom Lunsford.

In it, the author explains that it is easy to lose your law license (by stealing money from your trust account), hard to get it back (by petitioning for reinstatement, which rarely happens), and impossible to voluntarily resign (by saying bye bye).

It seems this was more than a merely theoretical discussion. A lawyer had approached the State Bar wanting to resign from the Bar and “regain his status as a non-lawyer.”

“Surprisingly, I cannot recall that this issue has ever come up before,” writes Mr. Lunsford. “Anyway, I’m not sure that it’s possible to quit. After all, the statutes make no reference to resignation. They merely advise us that all members of the North Carolina State Bar are either active or inactive. The only express means of disassociation is disbarment. I assume that death will also sever the connection, but am doubtful that one can just pick up one’s marbles and go home, as it were.”

The reason: lawyers who have committed misconduct could escape the State Bar’s disciplinary clutches by simply dropping their law license in the mail and skipping town. They could relocate to a more obliging locale – South Carolina, say – and seek admission there based on an unblemished record.

By the same token, trust account thieves could head for the coast (in the Palmetto State of course) after receiving notice of an audit but before the auditors show up.

I get the logic. Sort of. Although my guess is that neither of these two circumstances would occur with much frequency, even if resignations were readily granted and each ex-lawyer was presented with a gold watch and best wishes in Myrtle Beach.

It just seems a bit weird – tyrannical, even – not being able to up and bolt if you feel like it. This is America, right? You’re telling us we can quit smoking, eating red meat and watching Storage Wars, but we can’t quit the State Bar?

It’s like standing in line for hours at Disneyworld for a ride on the Spinning Teacups or Tower of Terror only to be told you can never get off.

But it’s probably no big deal. You can get to basically the same place through a simple, one-page Petition for Transfer to Inactive Status.

Or you can wait for the State Bar to initiate your departure by:

  • Not submitting your 2012 CLE compliance paperwork, which was due more than a month ago;
  • Not paying the Bar’s invoice for 2012 CLE fees (if you owe any); or
  • Not following the Rules of Professional Conduct.

So forget about trying to voluntarily resign. It’s too much trouble. And besides, you don’t want to be looking over your shoulder the next time you visit South Carolina.

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina (active) and South Carolina (inactive). Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He grew up near Myrtle Beach. Contact, phone 919-619-2441.

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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