While it is not impossible for a disbarred lawyer to be reinstated, the process can be quite difficult and few lawyers even try. Data collected by the ABA indicates that 674 petitions, motions or requests for reinstatement or readmission were filed in 2011 in the jurisdictions that responded. Only 67 applications for reinstatement after disbarment were successful. Over the past 30 years, many disciplinary bodies have developed a spectrum of sanctions, including different levels of suspension, such that disbarment tends to be saved for the most serious of offenses. Additionally, there is little consensus among state supreme courts and disciplinary agencies over which disbarred lawyers should be reinstated.
However, in the event that the sanctions were the result of substance abuse or mental health issues, some favor reinstatement after effective treatment. And, the relationship between lawyer misconduct and substance abuse or mental health issues is one area where disciplinary agencies have been revising their policies. State Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) have played a role in propagating this change. Sarah Krauss, chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs comments that “work around the United States through LAP programs has brought everybody’s consciousness up a bit…we’ve been at this for more than 25 years, and we’ve seen more interaction between LAPs and not only disciplinary counsel, but also character and fitness committees on who should be admitted in the first place.” In considering reinstatement for substance abuse or mental health cases, some states are focusing on acknowledgment of wrongdoing, restitution, and concrete steps taken toward rehabilitation.
For more information, read this article, recently published in the ABA Journal.