Reporting from the Virginia State Bar’s Office of Bar Counsel shows consistency yet again in the overall number of complaints made against lawyers and the corresponding levels of discipline.
Here are the figures:
|Fiscal Year 2020||Fiscal Year 2021||Fiscal Year 2022|
|Total Complaints Received||3,091||2,924||3,113|
|New Complaints Assigned to Bar Counsel||651||562||473|
|Cases Dismissed by Bar Counsel||331||315||240|
|Cases Otherwise Dismissed||142||129||121|
|Public Admonition or Reprimand||20||24||34|
|Revocations||27 (16 consent)||21 (12 consent)||19 (13 consent)|
Behind the figures lies what I see as the real “take away.” For both public and private discipline, the leading sources of ethics violations arise out of:
- Competency, Rule 1.1. (“Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”).
- Diligence, Rule 1.3. (“A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information….”).
- Managing Trust Accounts, Rule 1.15.
And I have a strong hunch that what led to the complaints being made in the first place that gave rise to the discipline (and to the bar possibly uncovering the ethics violations) was an absence of client communication. See Rule 1.4. Bar complaints and legal malpractice actions frequently cite poor communication as a source of discontent in the attorney-client relationship. To give it a number, roughly 25% of complaints cite client dissatisfaction with communication with her own lawyer.
- Know what you are doing (or find someone that does)
- Don’t procrastinate (and do it timely)
- Keep your clients updated early and often
- And keep your trust accounts and your trust account records beyond reproach
Jeff Geiger assists attorneys and law firms with ethics, bar discipline, legal malpractice and professional responsibility matters. If you have any questions, please contact Jeff at (804) 783-7248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.