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Are black attorneys more likely to get disbarred in California?

One year ago, civil rights protests began to dominate the news cycle. The occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on how we address race and whether we have made any progress. This question is one that can be asked in many different areas of our society, including within professions like the law. When it comes to race within the practice of law, a recent study conducted by a professor at the University of California, Irvine, shows us that we still have a way to go.

What was the study?

The professor conducted the study to review whether race had an impact on attorney discipline in California. To answer this question, the professor reviewed the careers of over 110,000 attorneys in the state. After review, he reported to the State Bar of California that black, male attorneys are four times as likely to get disbarred by the State Bar of California compared to their white, male peers.

Why the discrepancy?

The professor pointed to three reasons:

  • Frequency of complaints. The professor found that there was a higher likelihood of complaints by clients against male, African American attorneys compared to their white, male counterparts.
  • Prospect of an investigation. The research also shows that the State Bar was more likely to investigate complaints about a black lawyer.
  • Likelihood of representation. Data also shows that black, male attorneys were less likely to hire legal representation to defend their interests when faced with a disciplinary proceeding.

It is important to highlight that the frequency of complaints is not the only issue. The issue that the State Bar can actively begin to address is the fact that, after review or investigation, they were more likely to move forward with disciplinary measures. Steps to address this issue could include removing the identity of the attorney to reduce bias and increasing diversity within the State Bar, particularly within the Office of Chief Trial Counsel.

Will the State Bar of California make changes?

It is important to note that the State Bar initiated the study. This is a good sign. Although it appears the group is working to reform the system, it is also important that those who face allegations act to better protect their professional interests. Knowing about the problem is the first step. Taking it seriously and acting to address it, the second.

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