Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: A Profile of Problem Lawyers in Victoria, Australia
Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 18-36
Posted: 11 Dec 2018 Last revised: 1 May 2020
Date Written: April 27, 2020
Public trust in the legal profession rests on regulators taking timely and effective action in response to misconduct. Usually, case-by-case analysis occurs after a claim or complaint is lodged with little attention on factors that may predispose a lawyer to misconduct. Vulnerability is a useful concept for understanding individuals' susceptibility to harm and for identifying safeguards to protect against that harm.This empirical study adds to the largely normative research on vulnerability with an analysis of 67 "problem lawyers" who were the subject of multiple complaints and at least one disciplinary hearing, a paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll in Victoria, Australia between 2005 and 2015. We analysed determinations about these lawyers and identified a concatenation of factors associated with legal misconduct. Personal vulnerabilities included older age, male sex, poor health, and patterns of behaviour such as low conscientiousness. Situational vulnerabilities included working as a sole principal or in a small practice, excessive workload, and pressures from relationship breakdowns, death or illness in the family, or financial difficulties.These findings shed light on vulnerabilities to legal misconduct, and have implications for lawyer education and well-being, protection of clients, and efforts to reduce lapses in professionalism.
Keywords: empirical legal research, vulnerability, professional responsibility, legal profession, lawyer regulation, lawyer misconduct
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