Pick on a doctor, and the AMA jumps ugly. Speak evil of an insurer, and get lectured about tort reform by the insurance lobby.
What happens when you speak ill of a lawyer to a lawyer? Most often, eyes roll, tongues cluck and then the slow mournful shake of the world-weary head: "I know, I know," we say, in apology for our accused peer. No defense. Just a mea culpa.
Why don't we defend ourselves? Is it good public relations not just to fall on our swords, but to commit ritual harikari?
Consider a recent report by the American Bar Association. It reports that in 2003, there were almost 120,000 complaints of lawyer misconduct to disciplinary agencies. About 6,000 lawyers were disciplined. Put another way, about five percent of complaints led to discipline; ninety-five percent did not.
That's good news.
But here's news that won't surprise those with a decade or more at the bar: Slightly more than 50 percent of complaints were dismissed summarily as so totally lacking in merit that they did not pass the straight-face test.
Why not a call for sanctions against those who file frivilous complaints? In almost every other context, a litigant who brings a frivilous claim is liable for vexatious litigation claims. I see no compelling reason to give clients a free pass.
Making a complaint should be considered serious business. We don't take the process seriously by inviting every client with a grudge to file grievances without consequence.
The bar, we say, has a duty to the public. We fulfill it in part by serving clients pro bono publico. I say in exchange we demand the public be accountable when a person files a complaint so totally lacking in substance as to merit only scorn.