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Posted in Blog on May 8, 2019   |  by Gary Burger

Volunteer Surrender of Law License

As you’ve probably heard, former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is in some hot water. Over the last several days, Stenger has resigned from his position of County Executive and pled guilty to four federal pay-to-play charges. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the scandal, the Post Dispatch can catch you up by clicking here.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, Mr. Stenger is also expected to surrender his law license. This got us at Burger Law thinking: what happens when a Missouri lawyer voluntarily surrenders his or her law license?

Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.25 states that a lawyer may seek to surrender his or her license to practice law in Missouri by application to the Missouri Supreme Court. When the lawyer applies to surrender their license, they must set forth the basis for tendering the license, including any alleged ethical misconduct that is the subject of investigation or complaint.

If good cause is shown, the Court may not accept the surrender and instead dispose of the matter on terms it finds appropriate. Any order accepting the voluntary surrender may set forth conditions for the acceptance and a time within which the applicant may seek reinstatement.

If I resign my law license, can I get it back? Yes, but it won’t be easy. “An individual who surrenders his license is disbarred and must seek reinstatement to the bar in accordance with Rule 5.28.” In re Kanzanas, 96 S.W.3d 803, 807 (Mo. banc 2003). Rule 5.28 requires the lawyer to retake the bar exam and attain a passing score. Rule 5.28(c). Moreover, the lawyer must wait five years before seeking reinstatement. Rule 5.28(a)(2).

Our advice to lawyers? Avoid sticky ethical situations, including federal crimes. The best way to avoid having to surrender your law license or otherwise be disciplined by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the Missouri Supreme Court is to familiarize yourself with the Bar’s ethics rules and be mindful of them as you practice.

“The purpose of discipline is not to punish the attorney, but protect the public and maintain the integrity of the legal profession.” In re Kanzanas, 96 S.W.3d 803, 807-08 (Mo. banc 2003). So, if you know the rules and also let professionalism and your clients’ interests guide you, you should be fine.

Here's a link to interesting political figures who have lost their law licenses:

Our advice? Don't come close to committing crimes or ethics violations. Life's too short and our reputation and law license too important.