In 2019, 2,308 lawyers were publicly disciplined for misconduct in 43 states and the District of Columbia, according to the 2019 ABA Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems. That represents roughly one-fifth of 1% (0.2%) of all practicing lawyers with active licenses in those states.
The most common form of public discipline was a suspension. Of all the lawyers who were publicly disciplined in 2019, nearly half (44%) were suspended. An additional 21% were disbarred, 11% were placed on probation and 24% received admonishments, reprimands or censures.
The ABA Center for Professional Responsibility is the only organization that collects, analyzes and compiles statistics about lawyer regulatory systems on a national basis. The numbers are collected from 56 lawyer disciplinary agencies, representing every state and the District of Columbia. However, comparisons over time can be difficult because not every agency participates in the survey every year. For the 2019 survey, all states participated except California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and part of New York.
Based on the states that have participated each year since 1998, the percentage of lawyers publicly disciplined has remained relatively constant, fluctuating between 0.20% and 0.38% of all lawyers.
The percentage of lawyers disbarred is generally trending downward. From 1998 to 2004, roughly 0.07% to 0.08% of all active lawyers were disbarred each year. That was down in 2012 to 2019, when 0.05% to 0.06% of all lawyers were disbarred each year.
• Lawyer discipline is a state function, usually handled by the state Supreme Court or state licensing agency. The ABA does not handle lawyer discipline.
• In 2019, state disciplinary agencies received 69,716 complaints in 43 states and the District of Columbia.