From an article by Fred Strasser in Governing magazine (January):
When the San Francisco Examiner launched a series of articles on California's lawyer discipline system in 1985, the searing indictment of both the legal profession and the officials who oversee it sent shock waves through the state.
Thieves were practicing law, the newspaper found. So were child molesters, perjurers, conspirators and blatant incompetents. . . . More then 8,000 complaints against the 95,000 lawyers then practicing in the state had cost only 11 of them their licenses . . .
Change soon followed the public outrage: Under legislative mandate, California ripped up its clubby old system of lawyer discipline and this year will spend 400 percent more money to run the new one.
California may be in the lead, but it is by no means alone. Although the pace is glacial and resistance mighty, across the country a swing toward more vigorous and open disciplinary systems for lawyers is underway. The days are drawing to a close when ripped-off, neglected clients will not know where to complain; feel like defendants on trial if they do; see their errant lawyer, at worst, slapped with a private reprimand; and in the end be warned that public disclosure of their complaint would be a violation of state law.
"The consumer movement is starting to catch up with lawyers, finally," says John Pomeranz, a lobbyist for HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny), a Washington, D.C.-based group that monitors lawyer discipline and advocates sweeping changes.
More than consumerism is behind the trend, though. A major force, experts agree, is a general de-throning and demystification of the legal profession.