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Ethics: Understanding Rule 5: A flow chart for attorney discipline in Missouri

Vol. 80, No. 1 / Jan.-Feb. 2024


The goals of the Missouri attorney discipline system are to protect the public and to maintain the integrity of the legal profession.

In Rule 5, the Supreme Court of Missouri implemented procedures that provide clients and the public with opportunities to have their complaints heard and also provide regulators and Missouri lawyers with a fair process for enforcing the Rules of Professional Conduct contained in Rule 4. The system is operated by and through committees and panels of volunteer lawyers and non-lawyers, professional regulators (the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel - OCDC), and the Court’s judicial process. 

This flow chart depicts the Rule 5 procedures for routine complaints against Missouri lawyers. It indicates options and respective consequences available at various stages to complainants, lawyer respondents, the OCDC and Regional Disciplinary Committees, Disciplinary Hearing Panels, and the Supreme Court of Missouri. Anyone involved in or more curious about a disciplinary proceeding should study Supreme Court of Missouri Rule 5. 

The process generally begins with the OCDC’s analysis of complaints. If the OCDC determines it has jurisdiction, the OCDC or Regional Disciplinary Committees conduct investigations. If complaints are closed with a finding of insufficient probable cause to justify discipline, complainants may seek review by the Missouri Supreme Court Advisory Committee (Rule 5.11). 

The OCDC and Regional Disciplinary Committees resolve many disciplinary matters with an admonition or a diversion – with the consent of the lawyer (Rule 5.12 and Rule 5.105). When formal charges (Informations) are filed under Rule 5.12, a Disciplinary Hearing Panel conducts a hearing under Rules 5.14 and 5.15, and then makes findings and recommendations to the Supreme Court of Missouri under Rule 5.16. That rule permits the parties to decide whether to accept or reject the panel’s recommendation and sets the procedures following those decisions. 

Except for dismissals accepted by all parties, the Court decides all formal disciplinary cases. Rules 5.17 and 5.19 establish the process for the Supreme Court’s analysis of those cases.

flow chart showing disciplinary pathways for lawyers