Self-Reporting to Licensing Boards: Pros, Cons, and Recommendations

May 17, 2024
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Whether you are a doctor or a lawyer, almost all professional licensing boards impose an obligation on their practitioners to report their own ethical or illegal misconduct. On its face, this seems counterintuitive – why would someone report their own misconduct and risk their license if the Board is otherwise unaware? Regardless of whether you agree with this obligation, you should be aware of it and understand the potential ramifications. If you have questions about your self-reporting obligations, a professional license defense attorney can provide you with valuable guidance. 

Advantages of Self-Reporting

Self-reporting requirements establish transparency and accountability that helps build trust with the general public. As a result, self-reporting any illegal or unethical conduct may result in leniency from your disciplinary board. This may be especially true if your violation was unintentional. 

In addition, self-reporting allows you to get out in front of the issue. In other words, you have the opportunity to first explain what happened and what harm, if any, it may have caused. You also have the opportunity to explain what corrective action you have taken and what steps you will take going forward to prevent future occurrences. For example: 

  • A dentist is charged with DUI and pleads guilty as part of a plea agreement. She informs her licensing board and explains that she was pulled over when she unexpectedly had to leave home in an emergency. She also explains that while she did not intend to drink and drive, she is undergoing alcohol counseling and has a family member who has agreed to help should she ever find herself in that position again. 
  • A lawyer inadvertently deposited client funds into his operating account that should have been deposited into his trust account, and the money was already gone before he realized it. He reports the issue to the bar association, explaining that he immediately repaid the funds to the trust account and that no client interests were compromised. He also explains what accounting measures he has implemented to ensure that no such issues will occur in the future. 

Professionals should be mindful that any potential advantages to self-reporting evaporate over time. In other words, you may not experience any of these benefits if you wait too long.  

It is also important to emphasize that you may still face disciplinary action even if you voluntarily report your misconduct. However, you are likely to have more control over the process and reach a more favorable outcome if you report it than if it was later discovered.  

Disadvantages of Self-Reporting

The most obvious disadvantage to self-reporting is that you are admitting that you engaged in misconduct. As a result, you immediately give up any potential defense you may have as to whether or not misconduct occurred. 

The other disadvantage to self-reporting is that you may still face disciplinary action. This can include public or private reprimand, but also suspension, or even revocation. This can feel somewhat unfair when you are trying to correct the situation and honoring your ethical duty to self-report. 

Things to Consider Before Self-Reporting

We want to first emphasize that you may be ethically obligated to self-report any misconduct. That said, you want to make sure you fully understand what you are doing before you report – as just discussed, you will be compromising your ability to defend yourself and you could face disciplinary action regardless. Here are some things that you should consider before self-reporting: 

  • Did you commit a clear violation? Reporting actions that are not necessarily misconduct may trigger an investigation and other proceedings that could have been avoided, even if they are ultimately dismissed. 
  • Are others aware of the violation? If there is a good chance that others are aware of the violation and are likely to report it, self-reporting can help you get ahead of the situation. 
  • What consequences are you facing? If the misconduct is likely to result in a suspension or revocation of your license, self-reporting could make it difficult for you to defend yourself. On the other hand, you may want to consider whether failing to report your misconduct could result in even more serious consequences.

Most licensing boards take misconduct very seriously, even if it is a minor breach. Ultimately, the disciplinary process is a quasi-criminal proceeding. Depending on the violation at issue and the circumstances surrounding your case, your board may give little consideration to the fact that you self-reported. 

The best thing to do before you do anything is to speak with an experienced professional license defense attorney. They can walk you through your options and help you take the steps you need to protect yourself and your license. 

Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford Today

Do not put your career at risk without first talking to someone who knows how to deal with these types of situations. Call us today at 410-514-6099 or send us an email to schedule a consultation.