Friday, October 6, 2006
by Michael S. Frisch
The attorney regulation regime in each state and the District of Columbia is ultimately the responsibility of the jurisdiction's highest court. One indication of the quality of regulation is the extent of public access to information concerning disciplinary process and results. If you are interested in the disciplinary system in your jurisdiction, the best starting point is the website of your state bar association. Does the web site provide ready access to all public information? If the answer is "no", this should be a cause for concern.
In the District of Columbia, proceedings are public when charges against an attorney are filed. The hearings are open to the public. The report of the hearing committee (two lawyers and a public member) is a public record. Lamentably, the charges, date and place of hearing and the report of the committee are not available on line. The last omission is particularly significant, as the key to any system is the quality of the decisionmaking at the hearing level. If the public cannot readily review such decisions, it is difficult to evaluate whether your state bar regulatory system is more concerned with protecting the interests of lawyers or consumers of legal services.
It is most definitely in the interests of both the public and lawyers who care about the integrity of our profession to press for open proceedings and meaningful access to information about the operation of disciplinary processes.