ARTICLE: No Stone Left Unturned: The Failure of Attorney Self-Regulation in the District of Columbia Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2005 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics
Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics

ARTICLE: No Stone Left Unturned: The Failure of Attorney Self-Regulation in the District of Columbia

Spring, 2005

18 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 325




Can lawyers be trusted to police themselves? Self-governance is a cherished and well-entrenched prerogative of the legal profession. In the mair, lawyers promulgate the ethical rules that govern their conduct in connection botti with the practice of law and their personal lives. When questions are raised concerning the application of these ethical standards, lawyers dominate the decisions (i) whether or not to file charges, (ii) how disputed facts should be resolved, and (iii) with respect to the appropriate sanction. The preamble to the American Bar Association ("ABA") Model Rules of Professional Conduct posits that self-regulation, with ultimate regulatory authority vested in the courts, is necessary to "maintain the legal profession's independence from government domination" as "abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice."

The ABA's concern about governmental, as opposed to judicial, authority over the legal profession may be well-founded. When there is an issue of an ethical violation, courts adopt one of several models to determine if there has been misconduct and to impose sanction: sitting judges, specialized administrative law judges, volunteers, or a combination of the three. Serious concerns about self-regulation exist when courts delegate substantial authority for fact-finding and sanction decision to volunteer lawyers rather than independent judicial or quasi-judicial officers. Volunteer systems use lawyers and laypersons to consider ethical violations, with the lawyers always having the majority vote. The District of Columbia has operated under such a volunteer ...
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