Attorneys work within a body of law that regulates and ultimately sanctions them for failure to comply with standards governing their professional conduct. The primary purposes of disciplinary proceedings are the protection of the public, the courts and the legal profession; the maintenance of high professional standards by attorneys and the preservation of public confidence in the legal profession.
Remedies and sanctions for attorney misconduct can be categorized into three groups.
- Sanctions and remedies for attorney misconduct which are available to public authorities. Such sanctions include professional discipline, criminal liability of lawyers who assist their clients in committing criminal acts, and judicially imposed sanctions such as for contempt of court. Professional discipline is generally the best known sanction for attorney misconduct.
- Sanctions which are available to lawyers' clients. For example, damages for attorney malpractice, forfeiture of an attorney's fee, and judicial nullification of gifts or business transactions that breach a lawyer's fiduciary duty to a client.
- Remedies that may be available to third parties injured by a lawyer's conduct on behalf of a client. These include injunctions against representing a client in violation of the lawyer's duty to a third party, damages for breach of an obligation the attorney assumes to a non-client, and judicial nullification of settlements or jury verdicts obtained by attorney misconduct.