Continuing Legal Education CLE Blog

Illinois  Ethics and Professionalism  Investigations in 2006

Dec 07, 2014

ApexJurist 2007 State of The Practice:

A Review of Illinois Ethics and Professionalism Investigations in 2006

Chicago, Illinois

January 12, 2008

During 2006, the ARDC docketed 5,801 investigations, about a 4.6% decrease from 2005 with a total attorney population registered in Illinois for 2006 of 81,146. Those 5,801 investigations involved charges against 4,080 different attorneys, representing about 5% of all registered attorneys. About 894 or 22% of the 4,080 attorneys were the subject of more than one investigation docketed in 2006.

With multiple charges of misconduct sometimes brought against one attorney, there were approximately 8,516 charges brought, and investigated, against the 4,080 attorneys. The top six classifications of investigations accounted for the vast majority, about 75% of all investigations. The neglect of a matter accounted for 2,596, about 30%, of the charges. Next in line was the failure to communicate with a client representing 1,383 (16%) of the investigations. Fraudulent activity comprised 921 (11%) of the investigations and excessive or improper fees rounded out the top four with 827 (10%) of the investigations. Finally, at about 4% each, were improper trial conduct and improper management of client funds with 368 and 361 respectively.

The area of practice has a clear link to the number of investigations. The top areas of practice most likely to lead to a grievance of attorney misconduct are criminal law, domestic relations, tort, and real estate. The good news is that the number of investigations that result in actual filings with the supreme court is small. There were 1,319 investigations closed after just the initial review. Following an investigation, an additional 4,076 matters were closed. This resulted in only 48 filings with the supreme court and 215 complaints or impairment petitions voted. Putting this in perspective, of the 81,146 registered attorneys, less than 0.003% had action beyond an investigation taken by the ARDC and only 32 disbarred and 63 suspended.

The Twenty Most Common Ethical Violations

According to the 2006 ARDC annual report, the twenty most common ethical violations include:

  • Neglect,
  • Failing to communicate with the client, including failing to communicate the basis of a fee,
  • Fraudulent or deceptive activity, including lying to clients, knowing use of false evidence or making a misrepresentation to a tribunal or non-client,
  • Excessive or improper fees, including failing to refund unearned fees,
  • Improper trial conduct, including using means to embarrass, delay or burden another or suppressing evidence where there is a duty to reveal,
  • Improper management of client or third party funds, including commingling, conversion, failing to promptly pay litigation costs or client creditors or issuing NSF checks,
  • Filing frivolous or non-meritorious claims or pleadings,
  • Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, including conduct which is the subject of a contempt finding or court sanction,
  • Conflict of interest, including Rule 1.7: Concurrent conflicts, Rule 1.9: successive conflicts, Rule 1.8(a)-(e); (i): self-dealing conflicts, Rule 1.8 (f)-(h): improper agreement to limit liability/avoid disciplinary action, Rule 1.8 (i): improper acquisition of interest in client matter, and Rule 1.12: former judge or arbitrator,
  • Failing to properly withdraw from representation, including failing to return client files or documents,
  • Criminal activity, including criminal convictions, counseling illegal conduct or public corruption,
  • Failing to provide competent representation,
  • Not abiding by a client’s decision concerning the representation or taking unauthorized action on the client’s behalf,
  • Improper commercial speech, including inappropriate written or oral solicitation
  • Practicing in a jurisdiction where not authorized,
  • Improper communications with a party known to be represented by counsel or unrepresented party,
  • Prosecutorial misconduct,
  • Failing to preserve client confidences or secrets,
  • Threatening criminal prosecution or disciplinary proceedings to gain advantage in a civil matter,
  • Failing to supervise subordinates.

Each of these violations is due to the failure of an attorney to live up to his or her ethical duty and the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Bibliography: ARDC 2006 Annual Report.