The Year in Attorney Discipline 2015: A Quantum Shift in the Right Direction
Mark W. Gifford Bar Counsel
2015 saw a 35% downturn in the number of disciplinary complaints received by the Office of Bar Counsel (from 201 in 2014 to 127 in 2015) and a 60% decline in the number of disciplinary orders issued to lawyers (from 17 in 2014 to 7 in 2015). Those figures, though certainly encouraging, beg the question, "Why?"
Surely, there must be several factors at work, and not all of them are identifiable. I have my own theory, which has to do with the shift in the focus of the Bar Counsel position, at least with respect to lawyer discipline, since I took the job on a full-time basis two years ago.
I started as part-time, contract Bar Counsel in the beginning of 2011, and served in that capacity for nearly three years before a number of factors caused me to leave private practice and go to work for the Bar full-time in late 2013. One factor was my conclusion that a system designed exclusively to discipline lawyers is missing the point. I believed that if more resources could be directed to support lawyers in the ethical, professional practice of law instead of investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action, everyone wins. Clients are better served; lawyers sleep better at night; and my job, at least on the professional responsibility side, is both more manageable and more enjoyable.
Becoming full-time Bar Counsel made it possible for me to devote a substantial amount of time to ethics-related Continuing Legal Education. In 2014, I presented o n professional responsibility issues 17 times, offering 29.5 hours of CLE credit in ethics. 22.5 of those hours were free. In 2015, I presented 20 programs totaling 32 hours, 27 of which were free. I am also a regular contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer on ethics-related issues.
I have to believe the availability of free CLE offerings in ethics has a number of positive effects. For one, it makes compliance with the mandatory ethics requirement easier. But more than that, it should have the effect of...