Report shows increase in petitions for discipline filed against attorneys and reveals most common practice areas and allegations in complaints.
Massachusetts Bar Counsel recently issued her annual report for Fiscal Year 2016. This report provides a useful snapshot of Bar Counsel’s disciplinary investigations and prosecutions, highlights practice areas prone to complaints, and reveals the most common allegations investigated by Bar Counsel and resulting in discipline.
Bar Counsel’s gatekeeping division, the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program, responded to 3,799 inquiries in FY 2016. Of these, 16% concerned domestic relations matters, 16% concerned criminal matters, and 13% concerned civil litigation matters. Although only 7% concerned real estate matters, this practice area comprised a larger percentage of matters ultimately opened for formal investigation.
Bar counsel opened 764 formal complaints involving 652 attorneys in FY 2016. Real estate (14%), civil litigation (12%), and domestic relations (12%) were the practice areas that generated the most complaints, followed by immigration (6%) and criminal defense (6%). Neglect (30%), trust account violations (29%), and failure to communicate (21%) were the most common allegations, followed by incompetence (14%), fee violations (14%), and failure to withdraw properly (9%). Bar counsel also opened 128 investigations as a result of dishonored checks in FY 2016, a slight increase from 2015 (when 115 files were opened on that basis).
Bar counsel filed 105 petitions for discipline in FY 2016, an increase over both 2015 (95 petitions) and 2014 (76 petitions).
The Board of Bar Overseers and Supreme Judicial Court sanctioned 125 lawyers in 2016, an increase from both 2015 (when 109 lawyers were sanctioned) and 2014 (when 100 lawyers were sanctioned). Neglect (36%), failure to communicate (36%), incompetence (29%) and trust account violations (27%) were among the most common reasons for imposing a sanction.
Lawyers practicing in areas that generate higher numbers of complaints should be mindful of their increased risk. Likewise, all attorneys should take note of the most frequent allegations raised in complaints and resulting in discipline. Developing work habits and office systems to address the most common concerns will both improve your practice and minimize the chances of a disciplinary investigation or sanction.
A copy of Bar Counsel’s full report is available at http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/fy2016.pdf.