Reporting from the Virginia State Bar’s Office of Bar Counsel indicates general consistency in the overall number of complaints made against lawyers and the corresponding levels of discipline.
Encouraging still is that the processing of bar complaints is being handled more efficiently and with a reduction in the case loads and time periods for resolution (even as it is understood that attorney and investigator resources are the same or less). Per “Bar Counsel’s Report on the State of the Disciplinary System,” a comparison between Fiscal Year 2016 and Fiscal 2021 shows as to the bar’s caseload that: “The numbers reflect more efficient processing of cases at virtually all levels, from the preliminary investigation stage through the subcommittee level stage, and from the subcommittee stage through hearing. The numbers also reflect a significant increase in agreed dispositions.” In fact, “agreed dispositions,” or settlements, totaled 86, which was the highest number in six years (49, 2019; 52, 2020).
A summary of reporting follows by fiscal year (July 1 to June 30):
|Fiscal Year 2019||Fiscal Year 2020||Fiscal Year 2021|
|Number of Complaints||3,123||3,091||2,614|
|Percentage of Complaints as to Total of Active Lawyers||9.5% (32,870 lawyers)||9.8% (31,693 lawyers)||Not yet determined|
|Percentage Screened Out in Early Review||84% (2,626 cases)||79% (2,440 cases)||80% (2,099 cases)|
|Cases Dismissed||357||473||See below|
|Lawyers Receiving Private Discipline||42||54||40|
|Lawyers Receiving Public Discipline||67||74||94|
|Revocations (including consent/agreement)||17||
(bar counsel reports 34)
|22 (including 13 consents to revocation)|
While the overall number of bar complaints declined in Fiscal Year 2021, complaints have been trending upward since January 1, 2021, with a 19.3% increase in complaints in May of 2021 compared to May of 2020. As in previous years, the dismissal of cases following the initial screening is most likely (and not surprising) early in the disciplinary process following additional explanation/investigation of the underlying circumstances giving rise to the complaint. Specifically, in Fiscal Year 2021 (as of May 28, 2021), 129 cases were dismissed at the subcommittee level (which is the lowest level of disciplinary review following the referral of cases for investigation).
Jeff Geiger assists attorneys and law firms with ethics, legal malpractice and professional responsibility matters. If you have any questions about this post or other issues, please contact Jeff at (804) 783-7248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.