A Qualitative Study of Peer Reporting of Attorney Ethical Misconduct

Jason Alan Helm, Walden University

Abstract

Attorney misconduct affects the victims, the justice system, and the reputation of the entire legal profession. The legal profession suffers from a negative public perception because of a perceived lapse of ethical conduct. This study was designed as a general qualitative study and its purpose was to understand the processes attorneys experience regarding peer reporting of attorney ethical misconduct. The questions examined in this study was whether attorneys were willing to report their peer's ethical misconduct and why those attorneys decided to report or not report their peer's ethical misconduct. Twenty open-ended questionnaires were collected from a sampling of active, practicing attorneys in good standing located within the State of Michigan. Data was coded both manually and with the assistance of NVivo to find themes within the responses. The results of the questionnaire found that attorneys were willing to report their peer's ethical misconduct as required by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Reasons given for reporting by the respondents were a sense of duty, and to protect the interests of their clients. The reason given by the respondents on why an attorney may not report a peer's ethical misconduct was fear, ranging from fear of retaliation to fear of being mistaken. The social change implications of this study were to promote and assist attorneys to safely and confidently report ethical concerns and to improve the overall public perceptions of the legal profession. The legal profession self-governs its members in matters of ethical rules enforcement. A better understanding of the motivations and fears associated with peer reporting can help the Bar design solutions to address peer reporting.