Tales from the Abyss: What Does it Take to Get Disbarred These Days?
ABA Section of Litigation Joint Committees’ CLE Seminar, January 2012
15 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2012 Last revised: 23 Jul 2012
Date Written: January 19, 2012
As the behavior of attorneys appears to become more repugnant as the years pass, legal scholars continue to lament over the decline in civility and quality of attorneys in the profession. Not only does attorney conduct seem to be more reprehensible, or at least more visible these days, but the rules of professional conduct for many states require the lowest common denominator of behavior. An attorney need only conduct herself at the lowest levels of professionalism to avoid discipline. Based on the nauseating behavior by some attorneys these days, as well as the low standards of conduct required for an attorney, the question becomes: what does it actually take to get disbarred? This article examines several cases in several jurisdictions relating to disbarment. The cases do not involve conduct that would obviously warrant disbarment, such as embezzling thousands of dollars from the client, murder or arson; instead, the cases focus on other misconduct, including lack of diligence, dishonesty, supervising, payment arrangements with a client, and even failing to act properly as a juror, each of which can also lead to disbarment. This article discusses how a pattern of misconduct, plus prior disciplinary sanctions, failure to participate or participate truthfully in the disciplinary process, and lack of remorse are fatal combinations to a lawyer’s license. This article also demonstrates that attorneys need not break every rule, or break them repeatedly, to lose their licenses or suffer serious consequences. The article also provides practical tips to avoid disbarment and other sanctions.
Keywords: professional responsibility, disbarment, suspension, attorney misconduct, rules of professional conduct
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