"Philadelphia Lawyers": Policing the Law in Pennsylvania

Pinaire, Brian K.; Heumann, Milton; Scarlett, Christian
January 2012
Professional Lawyer;2012, Vol. 21 Issue 2, p137
Unlike other professions within the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania attorneys generally "police" themselves, meaning that ethical infractions and ramifications of criminal convictions are addressed not by a state administrative agency, but rather by peers working in a disciplinary capacity under the authority of the state supreme court. Recent socio-legal and social science research has addressed the various statutory "collateral consequences" that attach to criminal convictions, but we know comparatively little about consequential discipline instituted by the profession itself. Based on an examination of 419 disciplinary dispositions from 2005-2009, as well as interviews with elites, this study provides the first-ever examination of the process and legal-political implications of peer-policing of the legal profession in Pennsylvania. Specifically, we set forth four primary findings. First, despite global perceptions to the contrary, Pennsylvania attorneys are punished rather harshly by their peers, at least with respect to publicized discipline (certain disciplinary actions are not publicized and hence not open to examination). Second, our study reveals a trend we are calling "disciplinary amplification," or the tendency for sentences to increase in severity as cases proceed on appeal. Third, we highlight the prevalence of discipline reached "on consent" and explore the implications of this increasingly popular mode of disposition. Finally, our data illustrate a counter-intuitive phenomenon we are calling " self -discipline," or the tendency for certain suspended or disbarred attorneys to deliberately prolong their banishment as a tactic to eventually secure reinstatement.


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