NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Few Disciplinary Actions Against Lawyers

July 20, 2000

Only a minute percentage of American lawyers formally charged after a complaint are disciplined under the super secret processes followed in each state.

  • Of a total of 118,891 complaints to state disciplinary boards in one year, formal charges were initiated against only 2,504 lawyers in 1996, according to the American Bar Association.
  • Nationwide, out of the 118,891 complaints filed, only 1.57 percent of lawyers were suspended or disbarred.
  • Among all the states, the disciplinary board in Rhode Island had the highest rate of punishment -- with 2.79 percent of all complaints filed leading to lawyers having their practice interrupted by suspension or disbarment.
  • The rate in Washington state was the lowest -- at 0.51 percent, or 12 lawyers whose practice was interrupted out of 2,364 complaints filed.

Experts say most lawyers found guilty of wrongdoing, even committing serious felonies, usually escape with suspension or even verbal reprimands and restitution of some sort.

The disciplinary boards are composed of lawyers, of course -- which has led some reformers to campaign for boards composed of nonlawyers. They argue that if nonlawyers are competent to sit on juries in murder cases, certainly they can be trusted to judge the behavior of lawyers.

Source: Frank J. Murray, "Practitioners Almost Bulletproof When it Comes to Client Complaints," Washington Times, July 20, 2000.


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