We entrust some of our most important decisions to attorneys: the beginning and end of marriages, property matters, the distribution of estates, business transactions, possible prison terms, and the list can go on and on. In many ways an attorney can have a lot of power over your life. So, how can you make sure that the attorney, who is or will be engaging in potentially life altering decisions on your behalf, is the right person to trust? Attorney referral services or referrals from family and friends are one way to make sure you’re using a reputable attorney. Yet, these may not tell you the whole story about an attorney. One option that can help you dig deeper into the status of an attorney’s reputability is to check for disciplinary records.
To practice law in a state, an attorney must obtain his license through the State Bar Association. In many states, an attorney’s license is with the Bar Association, in conjunction with the Supreme Court or Judicial Branch of that state. While in some states, disciplinary actions and discipline records may be handled solely by the Bar Association, in other states, the Supreme Courts or Judicial Branch have specific divisions or agencies assigned to handling attorney misconduct cases. For example, in Illinois, the agency is called the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court in Illinois. These agencies investigate reported misconduct and conduct court cases to determine the appropriate disciplinary measure to be applied. In some cases an attorney could be suspended from practicing law for a certain period of time. Yet, in more serious cases, an attorney could be disbarred, which means they are stripped of their license to practice law.
Many disciplinary agencies provide online access to review the attorney misconduct cases. Online information can include a brief synopsis, or a detailed report about the activities that lead to the attorney being disciplined. Some states provide basic searches by date, while other states allow for detailed searches by name, keywords, rule name, or case number.
Attorneys can be disciplined for financial misconduct as well as other fraudulent behaviors. Knowing whether or not an attorney has been accused or convicted of certain misconduct can be one step in putting some power back in your own hands. Although many people do deserve second chances for their mistakes, you should also be allowed to make the decision of whether you are comfortable having that attorney handle your important matters.
The exact location of the attorney disciplinary records will vary by state. For example, while Illinois cases are heard by an agency of the Supreme Court, Connecticut attorney disciplinary cases are heard in that state’s Superior Court through an agency called the Statewide Grievance Committee. However, determining whether an attorney is qualified to handle your cases is enough to think about on its own. So, to make your search a little easier, Courtreference.com provides free and easy access to attorney disciplinary resources by state so you don’t have to hunt for the exact locations of these records on your own.