Should I Investigate My Lawyer’s History of Professional Discipline?

I am thinking about hiring a lawyer to help me with a dog-bite case involving injuries to my child. Can I find out if my lawyer has ever been disciplined by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility?

Yes.

Lawyers are regulated by the Tennessee Supreme Court through the Board of Professional Responsibility. The Board of Professional Responsibility investigates lawyers that are accused of violating the ethical standards of the legal profession, which are set forth in Rule 7 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. A lawyer who violates the rules can be sanctioned by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The sanctions can be a private reprimand or as serious as disbarment, which means that the lawyer is prohibited for practicing law for some period of years or even life.

Lawyers and non-lawyers can file complaints with the Board about the conduct of a lawyer. The mere fact that a lawyer has had a complaint does not mean that the lawyer has done anything wrong – anyone can file a complaint about anything. Indeed, the clients of criminal defense lawyers not infrequently file complaints against their own lawyers, and people involved in divorce cases may file complaints against their spouse’s lawyers that have little basis fact. Thus, it is the substance of the complaint, not the facts of it, that is important.

You can look at the Board of Professional Responsibility website and see if a lawyer has received sanctions for violating a disciplinary rule. If you learn that your lawyer has had a disciplinary complaint filed against him or her, ask about it. If they deny it and you know it occurred, the denial says something about their integrity. If they explain what happened, use your common sense to determine whether the lawyer’s error was serious or minor or whether it is likely to happen again.

You should be very concerned with a lawyer who has an extensive history of complaints found to be valid by the Board of Professional Responsibility.