When the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania began 41 years ago, just more than 13,000 attorneys served the commonwealth. Today, there are 63,943 active attorneys with about 7,049 in District III, which includes Luzerne County.
Practicing law is a privilege, and every attorney takes an oath to follow the Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules define how attorneys should properly handle legal matters. Indeed, the goals of the rules and the entire disciplinary system are to protect the public and to maintain the integrity of the legal profession.
To ensure that the rules are fairly applied, the disciplinary system includes an independent agency –The Disciplinary Board – whose members are appointed by the Supreme Court. The board was created in 1972 and has been in continuous operation since then.
As we reflect on our past and look to the future, we want to call attention to the most commonly violated rules in order to better educate our attorneys and the public that they serve.
• Misrepresentation, RPC 8.4(c), falls at the top of the list for cases of public discipline. Violation of this rule means that an attorney has engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. For example, an attorney might say that he or she filed paperwork for a case, when the attorney had not.
•As with any business transaction, communication is vital to the success of all involved parties. However, violations of Communication Rule RPC 1.4(a) are the second most common cause of public discipline. Breaking this rule means that attorneys have not kept clients reasonably informed regarding their cases.
• Lastly, conduct contrary to the administration of justice falls third on the list. In these cases, for example, attorneys might have failed to file paperwork with the court or failed to follow its rules. For additional details, see RPC 8.4(d).
Cases of misconduct tend to attract attention, but the majority of the attorneys in Pennsylvania are ethical, conscientious and upstanding. In 2012, public discipline was administered in only 100 cases statewide. An even smaller number of cases resulted in disbarment.
In my role as chairman of the Disciplinary Board, it is my honor to continue to increase educational resources and learning opportunities to keep all of our commonwealth’s attorneys serving the public ethically. However, if your attorney has violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct, you may and should file a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
On behalf of the Disciplinary Board, we look forward to the continued protection of the public and to maintaining the integrity of the legal profession for the next 41 years and beyond. To learn more, visit www.padb.us.