Morristown, NJ

NJ Office of Attorney Ethics Releases 2021 Annual Report

Morristown Minute

OAE of the NJ Supreme Court releases its annual Attorney Disciplinary System Report, detailing investigations, charges, and allegations of serious attorney misconduct.

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The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) has released its annual Attorney Disciplinary Report for 2021, detailing investigations, allegations, and charges of serious misconduct against New Jersey attorneys throughout the year.

Below are highlights from the OAE annual report –

Investigations and Formal Complaints: New Investigations decreased by 11.6% from 2020 to 2021 – a total of 768 new investigations were added in 2021.

New formal complaints decreased by 30% from 2020 to 2021 with 166 formal complaints against NJ attorneys in 2021 and 237 formal complaints in 2020.

The OAE also tracks how long an investigation takes place, with goals in mind to make the investigation run smoothly within a reasonable set time goal.

The OAE saw a decrease in the average time goal compliance rate (did not meet time requirements) for its investigations from 73% of investigations completed within a set time goal in 2020 to 62% of investigations in 2021.

Public Discipline: In 2021, 124 attorneys were sanctioned by the NJ Supreme Court, a 25.7% decrease from the 167 attorneys sanctioned in 2020.

Of the sanctioned attorneys, 18 were disbarred by order of the Supreme Court, 7 were disbarred by consent, 27 received term suspensions, 20 were censured, 15 reprimanded, and 19 were admonished.

The NJ Supreme Court also issued 18 temporary license suspensions for emergent cases in 2021 and reinstated 9 attorneys.

The OAE Ethics Counsel appeared before the Supreme Court of NJ on 32 occasions in 2021, an increase of 4 appearances, over 18 in 2020.

Fee Arbitration Program: The fee arbitration program adopted by the NJ Supreme Court in 1978 provides a neutral, confidential forum where clients and attorneys can resolve legal disputes.

In 2021 the fee arbitration program received 429 new filings for a total of 824 cases involving over $7.4 million in legal fees.

Random Audit Compliance: The OAE conducts random audits of private law firms to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court's financial recordkeeping rules. New Jersey is one of nine states with an operational random audit program.

In 2021, the program conducted 487 audits of law firms – as a result, the Supreme Court imposed disciplinary measures against 11 attorneys, including 4 attorneys who were disbarred for knowingly misappropriating funds. Comparably, 13 attorneys were disciplined in 2020.

Attorneys in NJ: As of 2021, there are approximately 99k attorneys in New Jersey – one attorney for every 94 NJ citizens – an increase of over 1,000 since 2020.

The Garden State ranks 6th in the nation in the number of attorneys admitted to practice – this ranking remains unchanged from 2020.

New Jersey ranks 43rd in the nation in annual attorney licensing fees charged ($212), the same fee and ranking as in 2020.

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