According to this article, the Arizona State Bar now includes records of formal disciplinary action against lawyers at its website to help consumers “weed out lawyers with spotty records while searching for representation.” You might think that someone like me, who constantly complains that bars unfairly target solo and small firm lawyers (as I did here) would oppose Arizona’s new development, but in fact, I don’t. Consumers should be able to learn whether an attorney has been formally disciplined. Doesn’t mean that the consumer should not hire the lawyer, but at a minimum, the consumer is entitled to an explanation about the charge and can then make a decision about whether to give the lawyer a second chance.
More importantly, public information about formal discipline helps lawyer too. For example, I’ve heard of several instances where my colleagues have referred cases to lawyers whom they believed to be reputable only to discover that they’d been disbarred. Making information publicly available helps avoid this kind of situation and allows us to make better referrals. Second, when litigating a case, it always helps to know your opponent – and learning that opposing counsel has a long record of disciplinary charges can potentially inform your strategy in the case.
I realize that there’s always the possibility that the bar may wrongfully discipline an attorney and forced disclosure of the sanction can harm the attorney’s business. But on balance, I think the benefits of access to disciplinary records far outweigh the possible harms.