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Lydia E. Lawless

Bar Counsel
Office of Bar Counsel

Lydia E. Lawless has led many high-profile cases against attorneys accused of professional misconduct since becoming bar counsel in 2017. As Maryland’s bar counsel, she seeks to encourage and promote the ethical practice of law and the highest standards of professionalism by members of the Bar. 

Lawless leads a team of about 20 staff members who investigate about 2,000 complaints annually. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she reported that complaints against attorneys actually dropped and more attorneys responded to bar counsel inquiries, potentially because they were conducted via email rather than postal mail. 

Prior to joining the bar counsel office, she worked as an attorney at Vesper & Lawless in Bethesda. She earned her Juris Doctor from American University’s Washington College of Law. 

Biggest challenge facing the legal profession today? 

One of the greatest challenges is the troubling rates of substance-use disorders and mental health issues facing the legal profession. In 2016, the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published the results of a comprehensive study finding that more than 1 in 3 practicing attorneys are problem drinkers and nearly half of all attorneys struggle with some level of depression or anxiety. There is no doubt that since the pandemic, the number of attorneys in crises has increased. 

What has been your biggest surprise during the pandemic? 

Less of a surprise and more of a confirmation, the pandemic has shown that lawyers and legal professionals are extraordinarily resilient. Most, if not all, legal professionals faced serious obstacles during the pandemic and the attorneys, investigators, and staff that work in my office were no exception.  

They have tried cases while simultaneously home-schooling young children, worked while caring for family members with COVID, adapted to countless new technologies and even started a new job entirely remotely. 

I am incredibly proud, not only of my staff, but of the profession as a whole for responding to these challenging times with compassion and strength. 

Advice for new practitioners? 

First, practicing law is one of the greatest privileges anyone could enjoy. Undoubtedly, at some point during your career, your ethics will be challenged; you will face competing pressures from your clients, your colleagues, the courts, your family, or your personal beliefs. Doing the right thing may be hard and it may be contrary to your immediate interests, but it will always pay off. 

Second, your legal education is ongoing. One of the beauties of the law is that it can never be mastered. Ask questions and seek out mentors. You will find that most lawyers are eager to share their knowledge and that the profession is welcoming. 

Finally, be kind. Be kind to others and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.