Washington, DC - Highlighting critical standards that states apply to successfully regulate lawyer conduct, HALT, the nation's leading legal consumer advocacy group, is urging discipline agencies across the country to renovate their systems for holding lawyers accountable. The nonprofit group has recently released its Lawyer Discipline Best Practices report, a study drawing on HALT's 33 years of aggressive advocacy to hold wrongdoers accountable coupled with feedback from disciplinary officials in a dozen states.
"For decades, HALT has recommended reforms to the attorney discipline system, and with the support of our active consumer base and disciplinary officials across the country, we believe widespread adoption of 10 straight-forward practices is necessary to enhance the public's confidence in lawyer-run systems," stated HALT Executive Director Rodd Santomauro.
The nation's lawyer discipline bodies -- which handle complaints against attorneys for ethics violations, billing problems or outright stealing -- have been criticized by consumers, reform advocates and legal professionals as being inefficient, secretive and overly lenient. Hoping to export practical solutions from states that employ effective models, HALT sought input from lawyer discipline administrators across the country. Officials from numerous states, including Illinois, Virginia and Washington, responded by adding recommendations based on their experiences applying the proposed practices.
HALT is urging its members and the general public to sign a petition which asks state bars and judiciaries to implement the 10 reforms highlighted in the Best Practices report.
We want disciplinary agencies to:
Disclose a lawyer's complete disciplinary history so that consumers can make informed decisions about whether to retain an attorney.
Host a user-friendly Web site that is easily accessible and provides helpful information in regard to the discipline process.
Discipline lawyers with formal, serious and public measures.
Permanently disbar lawyers who commit abusive practices against clients.
Abolish gag rules that prevent people from speaking publicly about complaints they've filed.
Publicize the availability of lawyer discipline through required client notification and advertising.
Open lawyer discipline hearings to everyone to increase the public trust.
Provide ordinary citizens with a majority voice on the panels that decide misconduct cases.
Grant clients and witnesses immunity from civil liability for any information given to the agency during a disciplinary investigation.
Allow citizens to appeal initial complaint dismissals and hearing panel decisions.
"Each proposal arises from a practice that is already in place in at least one or more lawyer discipline agencies," stated Santomauro. "Using our report as a springboard, there's no reason why all states can't begin to take a fresh look at their systems for monitoring attorney misconduct. Our nation's increasingly vulnerable client population deserves nothing less."
Information about the Lawyer Discipline Best Practices report and Petition can be found at www.halt.org. Founded in 1978, HALT, Inc. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group that challenges the legal establishment to increase accountability in the civil justice system.