Friday, September 23, 2011

What is the proper level of discipline for this?

Suppose a lawyer is practicing law in a state where he or she is not admitted.  Regardless of whether, at least of paper, that state can impose discipline the lawyer, what the state really wants to do is inform the state where the lawyer is admitted and ask that state to take action.  What level of discipline should the state where the lawyer is admitted apply to a lawyer who was caught practicing law without a license in a different state?

A new case from New York provides some light on the subject.  In this case, a lawyer licensed to practice in New York was “disbarred” by the highest court in Maryland for several acts of misconduct, including the unauthorized practice of law. See, Maryland Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Sucklal, 12 A.3d 650 (Md. 2011).  Since the lawyer was never admitted in Maryland, "disbarment" in that context means permanent exclusion from eligibility for law practice in Maryland.

Back in New York, however, the attorney was only suspended for one year (with the possibility of reinstatement after only six months).  The case is called In re Sucklal.

This situation poses and interesting question about the concept of reciprocal discipline.  I think states should have the flexibility to decide their own disciplinary matters and that there may be reasons why a state may not want to impose exactly the same sanction imposed by another state.  But I wonder what is the standard sanction in New York for the unauthorized practice of law.  If it is a one year suspension, I understand the decision of the court.  But if New York disbars attorneys who practice law illegally in New York, why not disbar a New York attorney who practices illegally somewhere else?

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