Public Discipline and Disbarment
In 2018, 2,872 lawyers were publicly disciplined for misconduct in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the 2018 Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems conducted by the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility. That represents roughly one-quarter of 1% (0.23 percent) of all practicing lawyers with active licenses in those states.
The most common form of public discipline was a suspension. Of the 2,872 lawyers who received public discipline in 2018, nearly half (48%) – 1,374 – were suspended. An additional 631 were disbarred, 339 were placed on probation and 1,007 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 to make because not every agency participates in the survey every year. For the 2018 survey, all states participated except California, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Dakota, West Virginia and part of New York.
Based on the 42-50 states that have participated each year since 1998 – the percentage of lawyers disciplined has remained relatively constant, fluctuating between 0.22% 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 2018, when 0.05% to 0.06% of all lawyers were disbarred each year.
Public Discipline by State
Lawyer discipline rates vary significantly from state to state. In 2018, Nevada and Iowa had the highest rates of public disciplinary actions against lawyers. In those states, nearly 1% of all active lawyers received some form of public discipline (0.78% and 0.73%, respectively). States with the lowest rates of public disciplinary actions against lawyers in 2018 were Delaware and Oklahoma, where fewer than 1 in 1,000 active lawyers received public discipline.