• March 19, 2014

ThiefThe Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility is looking for lawyers with 2+ years of experience, including some litigation experience, to help investigate ethics complaints against Minnesota lawyers.

Minnesota lawyers comprise a “self-regulating” organization. We mostly count on one another to root out the bad actors among us and to keep us all honest.

Cynics will undoubtedly suggest that placing relatively inexperienced or junior lawyers in a position of regulating Minnesota lawyers (or, some might say, putting any Minnesota lawyers in these positions) has a number of potential pitfalls.

As a Fourth District Ethics Committee volunteer on his second six-year tour of duty, however, I can say that the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility provides an critical role in in the regulation of Minnesota lawyers.  What’s more, the system is designed and built to include “lay people,” better known as “non-lawyers.” Fortunately, this is not a closed clique set up to whitewash or rubber-stamp, “ABSOLVED,” on client complaints against Minnesota lawyers.

Anecdotally, I understand that the number of ethics complaints against Minnesota lawyers has risen sharply over the past few years. This should be no surprise. Our law schools pump out graduates who cannot find jobs, who “hang out their own shingles,” and, as such, without any experience or training, these new lawyers are vulnerable to ethical lapses (failure to meet basic expectations of competence, diligence, communication, etc.). Moreover, as the “lawyer supply” has grossly exceeded “lawyer demand,” the temptation to over-reach in one’s capabilities can be over-powering (“You want me to set up the company’s ERISA plan? Sure thing! How hard could that be?”). And, finally, of course, there are bad people who are liars and thieves, as well as being lawyers.

In short, I think the MBPR opportunities could be excellent training for whomever has the good fortune of getting these jobs. And don’t be cowed by dismissive senior lawyers’ comments of “this is the way we all do it” or “what could you possibly know?”  The legitimacy of Minnesota lawyers requires vigilance of those tasked with their oversight.

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