Colorado attorneys who get convicted of a crime (other than minor traffic offenses) face discipline from the Colorado Supreme Court, including possible suspension or disbarment. Attorneys have the duty to self-report their criminal record to the Court within 14 days of the conviction.
Having a criminal record does not automatically preclude aspiring attorneys from practicing law in Colorado. But applicants are required to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check and to disclose their entire criminal history.
Practicing law without a license (“bar card”) subjects the person to Colorado contempt penalties, including:
- imprisonment, and/or
- $2,000 to $5,000 in fines
In this article, our Denver criminal defense attorneys discuss how criminal convictions affect lawyer licenses in Colorado. Click on a topic to jump to that section:
- 1. Who regulates licenses
- 2. Applying for a license with a criminal record
- 3. Discipline following a criminal conviction
- 4. Fighting disciplinary penalties
- 5. Working as an attorney without a license
- 6. Other professional licenses
1. Who regulates lawyer licenses in Colorado
Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel oversees attorney admission and discipline. The Office is located at:
Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center
Colorado Supreme Court
1300 Broadway, Suite 500
Denver, CO 80203
The phone number is (303) 457-5800 or (877) 888-1370.1
2. Applying for a law license with a criminal record in Colorado
People applying for a bar card in Colorado are required to submit fingerprints as well as disclose their full criminal history. Even if an arrest did not result in charges or a conviction, the Colorado Bar wants to know about it.
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel then considers whether each applicant has the “character and fitness” to earn the privilege of practicing law in Colorado. Having a criminal history is certainly a strike against applicants. But a criminal record might not disqualify applicants who show that:
- they have been fully rehabilitated;
- they complied with all the sentencing terms;
- they are competent despite the criminal record; and
- they have good moral character despite the criminal record
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel also understands that the bar attracts many people who have had brushes with the law and now want to use their experience to help others or to reform the legal system. Applicants just need to demonstrate that their criminal record is firmly in the past and does not compromise their current or future “character and fitness.”
Note that applicants who have had their criminal records sealed or expunged should still disclose them in the application. The Colorado Bar can usually find past cases even if they have been sealed, and it can deny bar cards to applicants who fail to reveal their entire criminal record.2(For more information, see our articles about Colorado record seals and Colorado record expungements.)
3. Discipline for attorneys following a criminal conviction in Colorado
Colorado attorneys must notify the Office of Regulation Counsel within 14 days of getting convicted of any crime except:
- misdemeanor traffic offenses in Colorado, or
- traffic ordinance violations in Colorado (not including the use of alcohol or drugs)
Note that the Bar can discipline attorneys merely for failing to self-report criminal convictions within 14 days. It does not matter if the conviction was for a minor misdemeanor or if the attorney plans to appeal the conviction.
Once the Bar learns of the criminal conviction, the Attorney Regulation Committee will first determine whether the conviction was for a “serious crime.” All Colorado felonies are serious crimes. But lesser offenses are considered serious crimes as well if they involve either:
- interference with the administration of justice,
- false swearing,
- willful extortion,
- theft, or
- an attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation of another to commit the above crimes
If the conviction was for a serious crime, the Colorado Supreme Court will ask the attorney to explain why (“show cause”) he/she should keep his/her bar card. After considering the matter, the Court could suspend the attorney’s bar card indefinitely. (If the conviction ultimately gets reversed on appeal, the suspension would be lifted.)
If the conviction was for a non-serious crime, the Attorney Regulation Committee would investigate the case and decide whether to:
- dismiss the matter (“no discipline”),
- direct the attorney to complete a diversion program (such as rehab for substance abuse),
- privately admonish the attorney, or
- file a formal complaint against the attorney
If the Committee files a formal complaint, the attorney then has the opportunity to appear before the Committee’s Hearing Board to defend him/herself. The attorney can have his/her own attorney there as well. Following the hearing, the Board will decide whether to discipline the attorney. Possible forms of discipline include:
- directing the attorney to complete a diversion program,
- privately admonishing the attorney,
- publicly censuring the attorney,
- suspending the attorney’s license (usually for one to three years),
- disbarring the attorney (revoking the license)
Note that attorneys who get disbarred in Colorado must wait eight years before they can reapply for a bar license; in addition, the attorney would have to take the bar exam again.3
4. Fighting discipline by the Colorado Bar
Attorneys may be tempted to represent themselves during disciplinary proceedings. But it is often a good idea to retain defense counsel who is experienced in front of hearing boards and with administrative law.
In order to persuade the Hearing Board not to suspend or disbar an attorney who has been convicted of a crime, the defense counsel may try to argue that:
- the offense the lawyer was convicted of is not serious enough to warrant losing his/her license;
- the lawyer complied with all the court orders and is taking responsibility for his/her actions;
- the offense the lawyer was convicted does has zero bearing on his/her trusthworthiess or competentce
- the lawyer enjoys a good reputation among his/her peers and clients
Note that if the Hearing Board still elects to suspend or disbar an attorney, he/she can appeal the matter to the Colorado Supreme Court.
5. Penalties for the unauthorized practice of law in Colorado
People held “in contempt” for practicing law with no license in Colorado face:
- imprisonment, or
- $2,000 to $5,000 in fines
When authorities learn that a person may be unlawfully dispensing legal services, Colorado’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee will conduct an investigation. If the Committee determines that the suspect practiced law with no license, it will start “contempt” proceedings.
First, the Committee will issue a contempt citation to the defendant. A “hearing master” will then hold a hearing similar to a trial, where the defendant can appear with an attorney to defend him/herself. If the hearing master finds the defendant in contempt, it will impose the penalties mentioned above.
Defendants can fight the court’s finding of contempt by filing an “objection” with the Colorado Supreme Court. The Supreme Court would then have final say over whether the contempt findings stand.
Predictably, people who have been found in contempt for the unauthorized practice of law are not likely to be granted a law license in the future.4
6. Other professional licenses in Colorado
6.1. Medical licenses
Unlike attorneys, physicians do not have to supply fingerprints when applying for a medical license. Learn more about discipline for doctors with criminal convictions in Colorado.
6.2. Nursing licenses
Like attorneys, nurses have to supply fingerprints when applying for a license. Learn more about discipline for nurses with criminal convictions in Colorado.
6.3. Dental licenses
Dentists and dental hygienists are required to notify the licensing board if they get convicted of certain crimes. Learn more about discipline for Colorado dentists with criminal convictions.
6.4. Real estate licenses
Realtors may be denied a license to sell real estate if they have a criminal past. Learn more about discipline for Colorado realtors with criminal convictions.
6.5. Contractor licenses
General contractors generally have to apply for licenses from local governments, which have their own rules about how to discipline licensees for crimes. Learn more about Colorado contractor licenses and how criminal convictions affect them.
6.6. Social work licenses
Social workers can be denied a license if they are not forthcoming about their criminal pasts in their license application. Learn more about Colorado social work licenses and how criminal convictions affect them.
6.7. Accountancy licenses
Accountants can have their licenses revoked for committing a fraud crime, even if it is just a misdemeanor. Learn more about accountant discipline in Colorado.
Call a Colorado criminal defense attorney…
Sometimes lawyers need their own counsel fighting for them.
If you have been charged with a crime, call our Denver criminal defense attorneys at 303-222-0330 to discuss your options for FREE. It may be possible to get the charges lessened to minor offenses or dismissed completely.
Or if you have already been convicted and are facing a license suspension or revocation, we are ready to stand with you at the disciplinary hearing and fight to keep your license.
In California? See our article about how criminal convictions affect attorney licenses in California.
In Nevada? See our article about how criminal convictions affect attorney licenses in Nevada.
- Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, Colorado Supreme Court.
- Future Lawyers, Colorado Supreme Court; Character and Fitness Process, Colorado Supreme Court; Fingerprint Information Sheet, Colorado Supreme Court.
- Colo. RPC 251.22-29.
- 13-93-108 C.R.S.; C.R.C.P. 238-239; Colorado’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules.