What Would Happen If We Were Unable To Discipline Unethical Behavior?

The Board of Bar Examiners weeds out candidates who, although they would like to be lawyers, do not possess the necessary good moral character or are otherwise unfit to practice law. In my State of Texas, they disbar or accept resignations in lieu of disbarment about 50 lawyers a year. There would be no one equipped to deal with the problem.

What if the Bar did not have the ability to sanction or disbar unethical lawyers? Who would protect clients from lawyers who do not attempt to play by the ethical rules?

There would be no one equipped to deal with the problem.

We only need to look across the border into Mexico to see an example of this situation. Unlike Texas, where membership in the Texas Bar is mandatory, lawyers in Mexico are not required to belong to any bar association. If they are members of a bar association and do something that would warrant disbarment by the local bar association, they can 1) withdraw from the bar association and continue to practice law or 2) move to another part of Mexico where they join a new bar association and continue to practice law. Sanctions by the bar association have little impact on lawyers in Mexico.

Not long ago, the law school in Oaxaca, Mexico, invited me to their campus to discuss suggestions I have for addressing the problems
Bruce A. Campbell (right) with some of the attorneys in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was accompanied by Dale Howe, who spoke about social ethics. (l to r) Licenciada Raquel, Licenciado Taide, Licenciado Pedro Martinez, Licenciado Telesforo Pizarro, Dale Howe, Bruce Campbell, Esq.
created by lawyers who could not be effectively sanctioned. The solution that I proposed identified two areas that must be addressed:

  • Collaboration: Form a small group of the most highly regarded lawyers and judges who could come together and agree on certain rules that cannot be compromised. The affiliation is announced in the local news media and on the group’s Internet site.
  • Public disclosure: If a member violates a rule, the group would disclose in the local news media and on the group’s Internet site 1) the fact of the violation and 2) the sanction imposed.

This solution provides some very real benefits:

  • The peer pressure produced by the example of highly regarded lawyers and judges would encourage other lawyers to adopt an enforceable code of ethics.
  • Announcements of the group’s membership and disciplinary actions provides the public with assurance that the group holds itself accountable to the ethical practice of law, which unaffiliated lawyers and judges could not easily provide.

The net result of implementing this proposal is that the public would ultimately weed out the lawyers who prey on clients. If individuals did not hire unethical lawyers, those lawyers might adopt ethical practices out of economic necessity.

The response was positive. We are now discussing when we will be able to return to Oaxaca in order to continue the dialogue. This kind of issue takes a long time to resolve and working solutions may not be adopted during my lifetime. My hope is that by openly discussing the issue, we might ultimately lead to a result of making it very difficult for unethical practitioners to survive economically.

In closing, I want to make it clear, that even without the consequences of sanctions and disbarment, many lawyers in Mexico endeavor to be good and faithful servants to their clients. It is the self-serving lawyers who give the profession a black eye, cause harm to their clients, and need a new legal ethic.

Images of Oaxaca, Mexico:

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