Around one-quarter of one percent (that’s 0.23 percent) of the nearly 1.3 million practicing lawyers in the U.S. are publicly disciplined for ethical misconduct each year.
The most common form of public discipline is suspension, followed by disbarment.
Those stats are from the ABA 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession.
“In 2018 [the most recent year with available data], 2,872 lawyers were publicly disciplined for misconduct in 45 states and the District of Columbia,” says the report. “That represents roughly one-quarter of 1 percent of all practicing lawyers with active licenses in those states.”
The data comes from the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, which collects, analyzes and compiles statistics about lawyer discipline and regulation nationwide.
More takeaways from the ABA 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession appear below.
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6 Takeaways on Lawyer Discipline from the ABA 2020 Report
- The most common form of public discipline was a suspension. Of the 2,872 lawyers who received public discipline in 2018, nearly half (48 percent, or 1,374) were suspended. An additional 631 were disbarred, 339 were placed on probation and 1,007 received admonishments, reprimands or censures.
- In 2018, state disciplinary agencies received 83,073 complaints in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
- In every year since 1998, the percentage of lawyers disciplined has remained relatively constant, fluctuating between 0.22 percent and 0.38 percent of the total lawyer population. (Note: year-by-year comparisons are inexact; not every state or regulatory agency reports its data every year.)
- The percentage of lawyers disbarred is generally trending downward. From 1998 to 2004, roughly 0.07 to 0.08 percent of all active lawyers were disbarred each year. That was down in 2012 to 2018, when 0.05 to 0.06 percent of all lawyers were disbarred each year.
- Lawyer discipline rates vary significantly from state to state. In 2018, Nevada and Iowa had the highest rates of public disciplinary actions against lawyers. In those states, nearly one percent of all active lawyers received some form of public discipline (0.78 and 0.73 percent, respectively). They were followed by Kansas (0.71 percent), Tennessee (0.65 percent), and Oregon (0.65 percent).
- States with the lowest rates of public disciplinary actions against lawyers in 2018 were Delaware and Oklahoma, where fewer than 1 in 1,000 active lawyers received public discipline. They were followed by the District of Columbia (0.10 percent), Oklahoma (0.09 percent), Illinois (0.11 percent), New York (0.11 percent), and Rhode Island (0.11 percent).
North Carolina Grievance Data
Closer to home, here are the grievance numbers from the October meeting of the NC State Bar Council:
“During the quarter, the Grievance Committee considered 224 files. The committee dismissed 158 files, abated two files, and continued two files. One lawyer was referred to the Lawyer Assistance Program, nine lawyers were referred to the Trust Accounting Compliance Program, one lawyer received a letter of caution, 18 lawyers received letters of warning, nine lawyers received admonitions, four lawyers received reprimands, three lawyers received censures, and nine lawyers were referred to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission for trial.”
Jay Reeves is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Now he writes and speaks at CLEs, keynotes and in-firm presentations on lawyer professionalism and well-being. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers add purpose, profits and peace of mind to their practices. Contact email@example.com or 919-619-2441.