According to the recently released 2009 American Bar Association Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems 29% of the nations attorney ethics violations occur in Albany, making the 3rd Judicial Department of New York (Albany area) the nations capital for unethical attorneys. Across the US in 2009 a mere 5,502 attorneys out of over 1.4 million attorneys were disciplined for ethical violations, or .39% of attorneys, yet in Albany there were 1,596 ethics violations from only 44,674 attorneys. 7% of attorneys in Albany have been disciplined for ethical violations, nearly 20 times the national average.
Besides leading the nation in unethical attorneys, New York is one of the last two States in the country to fund attorney discipline committees directly from legislative appropriated tax dollars. Across the nation, attorney behavior is governed by ethics codes created by State Bar Associations, but enforcement and funding of discipline committees vary widely from state to state. New York spent approximately $8.3 million of legislative appropriated tax dollars to oversee 191,000 lawyers in 2009 as compared to over $52 million of Bar Association assessed fees that California spent to discipline 169,000 lawyers or $11 million that New Jersey spent from Supreme Court user fees to oversee 68,000 attorneys. Unfortunately there is no correlation between the amount of money spent on attorney discipline and the effectiveness of such programs. For example, while California outspent New York by over $41 million on attorney discipline only 350 attorneys out of 161,000 (.21%) were disciplined in 2009.
While funding models for attorney discipline vary widely between states, one thing thing that is clear when looking at that national statistics is that attorney's have little to fear for unethical, non-criminal behavior in the US. With a paltry %0.39 of attorneys facing a disciplinary action across the nation clearly ethics enforcement is ineffective in the US. A fair court system is an underpinning of our democracy and clearly the US needs to step up its enforcement of the ethical behavior of attorneys. A discipline system that only punishes less than .5% of its population is not a deterrent to unethical behavior nor is it offering effective discipline of its members. Considering that many large corporations try to shed their bottom 5% performers each year and 3.1% of adults in the U.S are in the jail or parole it is inconceivable that only 0.39% of attorneys across the nation behave unethically. If there is a statistic that shows why attorney’s are so maligned in the US the fact that less than 0.5% of attorneys will face a disciplinary action in a year shows that attorneys have little to fear for unethical behavior - except in Albany, the nation's capital for unethical attorneys.