Lydia E. Lawless will take over as Maryland’s chief investigator and administrative prosecutor of attorney misconduct on July 1, attorneys aware of the selection process said Thursday.
The Attorney Grievance Commission, with the approval of Maryland’s top court, has chosen Lawless to succeed Glenn M. Grossman, who stepped down in January after more than six years as bar counsel to the AGC. Lawless joined the Office of Bar Counsel in 2011 and has most recently served as a senior assistant bar counsel.
Lawless, 36, said she wants to be accessible to the state’s nearly 40,000 lawyers and not feared as a looming prosecutorial presence.
“I hope to demystify what our office does and how we do it and why we do it, with an emphasis on professionalism and communication,” Lawless said, adding that she hopes to join the legal community in “a continued discussion in how the rules of professional conduct intersect with all the practice areas.”
Lawless received the Rosner and Rosner Young Lawyers Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association in March. The award, administered by the Center for Professional Responsibility, is given to one attorney in the country each year.
Grossman nominated Lawless for the award.
Lawless, who has an undergraduate history degree from the University of Maryland, graduated from American University’s Washington College of Law in 2007. She worked for four years at her mother’s Bethesda law firm, Vesper & Lawless LLC, before joining the Office of Bar Counsel in 2011.
The 12-member Attorney Grievance Commission oversees the state’s lawyers to ensure they comply with the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct.
Lawless will lead a staff of lawyers, investigators, paralegals and administrative support personnel who review all complaints of attorney misconduct that the commission receives annually. Of the 1,835 complaints received last fiscal year, 339 were deemed by the commission to require investigation, according to the panel’s most recent annual report.
The investigation can lead to a petition for disciplinary action in the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Twenty-nine attorneys were disbarred in fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, according to the commission.
Lawless said prosecution of wayward attorneys will be undertaken only after other efforts, such as education and consultation, have failed.
Bar counsel should “only prosecute those cases that need to prosecuted,” Lawless said. “Prosecution should only be the end resort.”