An attorney, regardless of age or year in practice, never wants to get a call from the attorney grievance commission. The last person I want to have a voicemail from is Glenn Grossman or Lydia Lawless or any of the upstanding lawyers that comprise the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland. Don’t get me wrong, I have met several attorneys from Maryland Bar Counsel through my work with the MSBA or at other lawyer events and they are really nice folks; but I don’t really want to talk to them. Fortunately, I would venture to guess that very few of them could pick me out of a lineup and I am happy to keep it that way.
According to a recent Daily Record article, the Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred 20 lawyers since the start of the September 2013 Term, not including disbarments by consent. If you want to get disbarred, here is my advice, based on a review of the Attorney Grievance Commission’s list of disciplinary summaries since fiscal year 2006.
- Completely abandon a client, but still keep your client’s money. As part of the abandonment, don’t show up to a scheduled hearing. And don’t show up to any attorney grievance proceedings. After the Court of Appeals’ ruling, claim to be “shocked and disturbed” about the disbarment.
- Under the category we shall entitle “What’s an escrow account for?,” a recipe for disbarment includes misappropriation of client funds and commingling of personal and client funds. For example, if you settle a case for your client for $33,350.00, but send them a check for $21,833.00 with no explanation for the shortfall, you are well on your way to disbarment. It will be a slam-dunk disbarment if you then start transferring money back and forth from your general fund to your IOLTA account to cover up any improprieties.
- “What’s an escrow account for?” Part II – hide personal funds in your trust account to avoid having funds garnished by the IRS.
- Family Law Attorneys that like to mix work and pleasure should start looking for a new profession. Sexual relationships with your client while representing him or her in a domestic matter warrants disbarment. Lying to bar counsel about the relationship also doesn’t help. Even though I’m a commercial litigator and do not do any family law work, I’m pretty confident that my firm has a no sex with clients rule, or at the very least, it is frowned upon.
- Bribe elected officials. Get convicted for bribing elected official. Get disbarred.
- Make up fictitious clients and papers to distort your net income to your other law partners to shield your salary from adjustments. As a general rule, if you start making things up and lying to others, your time will come soon. As a practical matter, if you have time to make up fictitious clients, you also have time to do some business development.
- Attack the integrity and qualifications of judges and public officials, but make sure your attacks are knowingly false statements.
- Commit acts of fraud. Wire fraud is one.
- Take money out of your recently deceased client’s estate, even if you believe that it is a loan.
For the most part, doing the opposite of the Attorney Grievance Commission’s list of disciplinary summaries will usually ensure you remain a practicing attorney for a long time. Additionally, if you think you are about to get into the “possible disbarment zone,” the MSBA has established the Ethics Hotline, which allows attorneys to call in with ethical issues. The committee is even chaired by an attorney for bar counsel. As a simple rule, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably is unethical. If you are tired of the practice of law, instead of commingling funds, committing fraud, or ignoring clients, there are better ways to find a new profession. I would start here.