California Remains the Lone State Without Mandatory Reporting Rules for Attorney Misconduct
California remains the only state in the U.S. where lawyers are not required by law or statute to report wrongdoing amongst their colleagues. Although proposed legislation goes back to the 1980s in the Golden State, California has never gathered the support and momentum to pass any mandatory reporting laws.
California has the largest legal community in the country, consisting of over 266,000 licensed attorneys. Nothing stops attorneys from reporting ethics violations or misconduct to the State Bar. Still, proponents of mandatory reporting say requiring a misconduct report would help shift the culture within the legal profession because attorneys would have a duty to report any violations.
The American Bar Association’s rule on professional integrity states, “A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.” Many states use this rule as the basis for their mandatory reporting laws, taking their cue from the ABA’s rule on the issue.
In 2021, the California State Bar opened over 15,000 complaints against attorneys or those engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. As a result of these complaints:
- 85 attorneys were disbarred
- 159 attorneys were placed on probation or suspended
- 47 attorneys were placed in a court-ordered Lawyer Assistance Program
- 291 victims were reimbursed a total amount of $5.66 million
Some attorneys feel that California’s broad confidentiality obligations would complicate a mandatory reporting rule, while others are simply uncomfortable with the idea of “telling” on a colleague. Whatever the reasoning, any attempts to implement such a rule have stalled.
All other states have mandatory reporting requirements in effect for ethics violations and misconduct, and many find these rules beneficial rather than stifling. Legal malpractice is a serious issue that affects both clients and the legal system as a whole. When trust in attorneys erodes due to the actions of unethical lawyers, it affects trust in our entire judicial process.
The McGonigle Law Team has an extensive track record of pursuing legal malpractice claims, and we strongly advocate on behalf of our clients. If you have questions or concerns about a legal malpractice case, please reach out to our office today.
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