Protecting Your Professional License FAQs
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford | December 31, 2018
When a professional is accused of violating ethical rules and faces a disciplinary action, they often have many of the same questions. These are our answers to some of the most common questions about protecting professional licenses.
Which bodies are responsible for investigating complaints against professionals in Maryland?
The regulatory body responsible for investigating complaints and taking disciplinary actions against licensed professionals in Maryland depends on the field in question. A few of the major professional licensing bodies in Maryland are listed below:
- Attorneys: The Attorney Grievance Commission is responsible for investigating all complaints against attorneys in Maryland
- Physicians: The Maryland Board of Physicians oversees the professional licensure of physicians in Maryland, as well as other allied health professionals such as physician assistants
- Dentists: The Maryland State Board of Dental Examiners, which is a department of the Maryland Department of Health, handles complaints against dentists
- Nurses: The Maryland Board of Nursing handles the licensure of nursing professionals and complaints against them in Maryland
- Real Estate Agents: The Maryland Real Estate Commission, which is an agency of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, is responsible for investigating complaints against real estate agents and other real estate professionals.
- Optometrists: The Board of Examiners in Optometry, under the Maryland Department of Health, regulates professional licensure for optometrists
- Physical Therapists: The Maryland Board of Physical Therapy Examiners licenses and investigates complaints against physical therapists in Maryland.
- Chiropractors and Massage Therapists: Chiropractic licenses are regulated by the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners, while the State Board of Massage Therapy Examiners handles massage therapist licenses.
- Social Workers: The Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners investigates complaints against social workers.
What kinds of activities put my professional license at risk?
There are several types of conduct that can put your professional license at risk. These can be defined broadly as personal misconduct (possibly in the form of illegal activities), and professional misconduct, which is activity that, while not necessarily illegal, is unbecoming of an individual in a certain profession. For example, professional misconduct for attorneys could include representing a client with whom the attorney has a conflict of interest, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, or showing dishonesty toward a court. For doctors, professional misconduct could include patient abuse, inadequate record keeping, or failure to meet the required standard of care. Which types of behavior qualify as professional misconduct will depend upon your profession.
Personal misconduct is engaging in any behaviors that cast a negative light on your profession or that could otherwise compromise your ability to practice effectively. This includes illegal activities committed outside the workplace, such as:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Sexual misconduct
- Assault and battery
- Theft or embezzlement
What should I do if I receive a notice that I’m under investigation by my profession’s licensing body?
Receiving a notice that you are under investigation by your profession’s investigative body can be very distressing. The exact steps you should take will depend upon your field of practice, but below are a few pieces of advice that are common to all professionals facing disciplinary investigations:
- Comply with any and all applicable deadlines
- Gather relevant documentation that supports your case
- Do not contact or attempt to retaliate against the person who made the complaint (if you know who they are)
- Do not assume that the investigative board is on your side
- Do not discuss your case or the incidents that led to it with anyone
- Contact a professional license defense attorney immediately and preferably before giving any statement to the investigative body
Why should I hire an attorney? Couldn’t I go it alone?
You could go it alone, but seeking representation by an experienced professional license defense attorney is usually a better choice. After all, you’ve spent many years and likely many thousands of dollars to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to practice in your profession—why take a chance on all of that by attempting to represent yourself in a disciplinary action? A professional license defense attorney has experience representing clients who are facing the same issues that you are and knows the best strategies and techniques for protecting your license.
What does a professional license defense attorney do?
Generally, a professional license defense attorney will help you to avoid an official finding of professional misconduct and any repercussions thereof, or at least minimize the effects of such a finding. Specifically, a professional license defense attorney will:
- Guide you through the often confusing, multi-step investigation processes set by your profession’s licensing board
- Prepare advisory opinions on ethical issues involved in your case
- Appear and argue on your behalf in front of any tribunals
- Negotiate lesser disciplinary actions if your profession’s board determines that disciplinary action is warranted
- Appeal rulings of the disciplinary board
- Defend your character and fitness to practice against accusations of misconduct
- Protect your reputation during disciplinary proceedings and help you rebuild it after the conclusion of proceedings
My license has already been revoked. Is it too late to reinstate it?
In most cases, no. Barring extraordinary circumstances (for example, a physician who is serving life imprisonment or an attorney who has been convicted of an especially serious crime), most licensing and accreditation bodies have procedures for reinstating revoked licenses. The exact procedures for petitioning for reinstatement and the amount of time required to do so vary by profession. Contact a Maryland professional license defense attorney for more information about reinstating revoked professional licenses.
What kinds of disciplinary actions could I potentially be facing?
The exact disciplinary actions you could be facing will depend upon your profession and, in many cases, the discretion of the disciplinary board handling your case. However, there are some disciplinary actions that are common to most licensed professionals found to be guilty of professional misconduct, including:
- Written warnings
- Public or private reprimands
- Monetary fines
- Ordered participation in a counseling program
- Placing conditions on your ability to practice
- Suspension or revocation of your professional license
Will a professional misconduct charge or disciplinary action against me be made public?
In most cases, yes. Although reporting and documentation procedures vary from profession to profession, disciplinary actions against most professionals are documented and accessible to the public. For example, the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission provides information about sanctions and actions affecting attorney licensure as a public service, so that members of the public can ascertain whether their attorney has faced disciplinary actions in the past. The Maryland Board of Physicians provides a similar service for individuals wishing to access disciplinary actions and complaints against doctors. Because disciplinary actions against you are often made available to the public, you should seek the help of a Maryland professional license defense attorney to minimize a disciplinary action’s effects on your professional reputation.
Will I lose my job if I am facing allegations of professional misconduct?
Your employment status with a particular employer and your ability to engage in your profession generally are separate issues. For example, a lawyer who is accused of the unauthorized practice of law could be dismissed from her firm, but might not lose her license to practice in a related disciplinary action. In that case, the attorney would be free to seek employment elsewhere. If the attorney’s license were revoked in the disciplinary action, however, she would not be able to continue to practice law with any employer. Whether an allegation of professional misconduct will result in termination or suspension of your employment will depend upon your employer’s procedures for handling such issues.
Can I take legal action against a licensing board for wrongfully revoking my license?
Yes. In most cases, a license holder may sue a professional licensing board for revoking the individual’s license if it can be shown that the board acted unreasonably or arbitrarily, or failed to follow its own internal procedures. Before pursing legal action, however, the individual must normally exhaust any administrative appeals that are available to the license holder (although this varies by profession). Contact a Maryland professional license defense attorney for more specific information about pursing legal action against state licensing boards.
My application for a professional license was denied. Do I have any recourse?
Yes, in many cases. In addition to defending licensed professionals from losing their licenses, a professional license defense attorney can also assist you in obtaining one. If your application for a professional license was denied, there is normally an appeals process that you can follow, and this often involves a formal hearing. A professional license defense attorney will argue on your behalf by presenting the best case possible and maximizing the likelihood that you will be issued a license.
What happens if I continue to practice while my license is suspended or revoked?
Because your ability to earn a living often depends upon your professional licensure, it can be tempting to continue to practice while your license is suspended or revoked. However, this is not advisable. Continuing to practice can subject you to even further disciplinary actions and harm your future chances of getting your license reinstated.
Contact a Maryland Professional License Defense Attorney
These FAQs are only a very general overview of some of the main issues that come up in professional licensure defense situations. For more information about defending your professional license, including profession-specific rules and procedures, contact the Maryland professional license defense attorneys at the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford for a consultation. Call The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at 410-514-6099 or contact us online as soon as possible.