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. One cannot avoid the YouTube clip where a judge finds that an attorney has shown up drunk in her court, or stories like that of a prominent plaintiff’s attorney whose conduct included failing to obey court orders, failing to maintain respect to the courts, seeking to mislead the jury, and committing several acts of moral turpitude, which the reviewing court deemed outrageous. The punishment for these two lawyers included (1) suspension and mandatory rehabilitation, and (2) suspension for three years, respectively.
Not only does attorney conduct seem to be more reprehensible, or at least more visible these days, based on the ability to obtain news instantaneously from the Internet, 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?
Part I of this article provides a brief background concerning the professional rules of conduct that govern attorney behavior, as well as the sanctions that may be imposed on attorneys for their misconduct. Part II 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. The cases discussed in this article 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.
David A. Grenardo, Tales From the Abyss: What Does It Take To Get Disbarred These Days?, ABA Section of Litigation Joint Committees’ CLE Seminar (2012).