By Mary F. Andreoni, ARDC Ethics Education Senior Counsel
Around May 1 of each year, the ARDC submits its annual report to the Court chronicling all ARDC activities and initiatives during the prior year, as well as an accounting of ARDC’s finances. The 2021 Annual Report of the ARDC provides a comprehensive, statistical snapshot of the legal profession in Illinois.
2021 was similar to 2020 and there were no dramatic changes in the lawyer population or grievances. There wasn’t a mad rush of lawyers out of Illinois or the profession and there wasn’t a collapse of the attorney-client relationship and an onslaught of grievances. Time will tell whether and how the pandemic has reshaped the legal profession and its regulation.
Highlights from this year’s report are:
ARDC Initiatives in 2021
- Ethics Inquiry Phoneline. Staff lawyers responded to 2,817 calls from lawyers in 2021, providing research assistance and guidance regarding ethics issues and the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, free of charge.
- ARDC Online CLE. In 2021, there were 29 on-demand, recorded webcasts available on the ARDC website, providing 20.25 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit. 32,419 certificates of CLE completion were issued in 2021, totaling 24,274 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit earned.
- CLE Speeches. ARDC staff lawyers gave 117 speeches, all done virtually, in 2021. to bar associations, government agencies, law-related organizations, schools and civic organizations throughout the state and country on a variety of subjects related to lawyer regulation.
ARDC Pandemic Response and Office Organization
- Implementation of Technology.
Accepting email requests for investigation, handling investigations via email and conducting sworn statements via WebEx greatly enhanced the processing and review of grievances. Grievances concluded within 90 days of receipt in 2021 were resolved at a 5% faster rate than before the pandemic. Conducting disciplinary proceedings remotely enhanced case management and scheduling, and brought greater participation and fewer defaults. 14 out of 15 contested proceedings before the Hearing Board in 2021 were conducted remotely; only one was held in-person in the ARDC Springfield office. All 24 consent petitions and six default hearings, as well as all nine oral arguments before the Review Board, were held remotely in 2021.
- Legal staff reduction. The ARDC’s entire legal staff decreased from 51 lawyers in 2013 to 33 beginning 2022, a 36.5% reduction. The number of litigation counsel staff declined during that same seven-year period from 28 to 15 litigators, a 46.4% decrease as well as Adjudication counsel legal staff which decreased from 11 counsel in 2013 to 4 in 2022.
- ARDC Marks its 50th
Year of Service. On January 24, 1973, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted Rule 751, which established the ARDC to assume the disciplinary functions previously performed by the Illinois State and Chicago Bar Associations.
2021 Illinois Lawyer Population
It is too early to know what effect the pandemic has had, and may continue to have, on the lawyer population, since 2021 was the first registration year after the statewide shutdown began in March 2020.
- Registered Lawyers. 95,480 attorneys, a 0.6% increase over 2020, and closely tracking the virtually static rate of growth in overall lawyer population in the United States for the last five years.
- Age and Years in Practice.
In 2021, most Illinois lawyers were between 11 and 20 years in practice (26.4%), 40 to 49 years old (24.9%), and male (60.3%).
- Female Lawyers. Female lawyers now account for 40% of the lawyer population, a steady increase since 2017. For lawyers less than 20 years in practice, female lawyers constitute approximately 47% of the profession. After 20 years in practice, however, the gap between the number of female and male lawyers starts to increase significantly. Only 32.1% of lawyers in practice more than 20 years are female.
- Removals in 2021. Removals for Retired status, nonpayment, death, or discipline, did not appreciably change for the 2021 registration year and are consistent with what was seen in the years prior to the pandemic; however, non-compliance with MCLE requirements rose sharply for the 2021 registration year, as compared to prior years. 292 lawyers were removed for MCLE non-compliance versus an average removal rate of 117 each year for the past ten years. Similarly, non-compliance with the MCLE Basic Skills course requirement increased to 27 lawyers in 2021 compared with the average removal rate of 16 lawyers annually.
- Principle Business Location.
The in-state lawyer population remained stable in 2021. 69.7% of lawyer are located in Illinois, 0.4% increase over 2020 and continuing a slight gain in the number of in-state lawyers over the past five years. Out-of-state Illinois-licensed lawyers have comprised at least 30% of the Illinois legal population since 2014. The top five jurisdictions in 2021 for out-of-state lawyers are the same as last year: Missouri, District of Columbia, California, New York, and Wisconsin.
- Metro Chicago Lawyers. Of Active and Inactive lawyers in 2021 located in Illinois, 86.8% or 57,706 lawyers in Illinois practice within the six most populous counties in the state, commonly referred to as metropolitan Chicago (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will).
- County Population. There was little overall change in the 102 counties in Illinois over the prior year. 45 counties experienced a slight increase, including all the metropolitan Chicago counties, 36 saw a slight decrease, and 21 had no change in their lawyer population. The lawyer population outside metropolitan Chicago has decreased approximately 0.6% since 2017.
- Cook County. 71.0% or 47,209 lawyers with a principal business location in Illinois are found in Cook County.
- Downstate. 13.2% or 8,810 lawyers in Illinois are located in the remaining 96 counties of the state.
- Private Practice. Sole practitioners make up the largest practice size setting at 27.2%. The next largest practice size setting is lawyers at law firms with 100+ lawyers at 26.3%. The smallest practice size setting is lawyers in law firms of 11 to 25 lawyers at 9.4%.
- Sole and Small Firms. Sole practitioners and lawyers in firms of 2 to 10 lawyers account for 52.6% of lawyers actively practicing in private practice.
The impact of the pandemic and slowdown of the legal system continued to be reflected in the number of investigations docketed between 2020 and 2021. The number of investigations initiated in 2021 remained virtually unchanged over 2020. 3,881 investigations were received in 2021, 55 fewer investigations than in 2020; however, this is a more than 20% drop in investigations over 2019.
- Number of Lawyers. 2,979 were the subject of an investigation initiated in 2021. This represents 3.1% of all registered attorneys. 15.8% of these 2,979 lawyers were the subject of more than one investigation docketed in 2021, and 235 or 8.0% had been disciplined by the Court in the past.
- Types of Grievances. The type of grievance received in 2021 have not changed during the pandemic. 64% of grievances continue to stem from a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship: neglect of a client’s cause, failure to communicate, billing and fee issues, and failure to provide competent representation. Consistent with prior years, the top practice areas most likely to lead to a grievance of attorney misconduct are criminal law, domestic relations, tort, real estate, and probate.
2021 Disciplinary Prosecutions
- Disciplinary Caseload. 53 cases were added to the Hearing Board’s docket in 2021; 48 disciplinary and 5 reinstatements. This represents a 32.5% increase over 2020 and is consistent with the prosecutorial caseload prior to the pandemic.
- Demographics. Most lawyers charged with misconduct were 21 and 30 years in practice (25%), 50 to 59 years of Age (27%), and male (77%). However, lawyers between 5 and 10 years in practice were charged at a higher percentage (22.9%) than their percentage in the legal population (16.4%), more than any other years-in-practice group.
- Alleged Misconduct. 79% of disciplinary complaints filed in 2021 charged fraudulent or deceptive activity charged in connection with misrepresentations to clients, a tribunal or other or in connection with conversion of trust funds.
- Area of Law. The top five subject areas involved in disciplinary complaints filed in 2021 were: the lawyer’s own criminal conduct or conviction, tort and lawyer’s personal conduct (17%), real estate (15%), and domestic relations (13%).
2021 Disciplinary Sanctions
- Number of Sanctions. In 2021, the Court entered 84 sanctions against 83 lawyers (one lawyer was disciplined twice). The Hearing Board reprimanded one lawyer in 2021.
- Filings. 42% were resolved on a petition for reciprocal discipline, 40% on a petition for discipline on consent, 13% were contested, and 5% were by default.
- Sanctions. 33% of lawyers disciplined were disbarred (16) or suspended until further order of the court (12).
- Demographics. 70% of lawyers disciplined were sole practitioners. 27% of lawyers disciplined in 2021 had at least one known substance abuse or mental impairment
ARDC Client Protection Program
- Claims Approved and Paid. In 2021, 58 claims were approved, paying $715,311 due to the misconduct of 31 lawyers. One approval was for the $100,000 maximum, and 23 were for $2,500 or less. The number of claims filed have steadily declined since 2017 and the amounts paid out decreased significantly between 2019 and 2021, likely due to the fact that fewer claims were filed involving large-dollar misappropriations of client funds.
- Types of Claims Approved. 71% of claims approved involved unearned and unrefunded legal fees. 22% arose out of real estate matters.
ARDC Probation, Referral and Diversion Program
- Lawyers Monitored. In accord with the ARDC’s commitment to exploring practical and innovative approaches to meaningfully address some of the causes of lawyer misconduct, particularly involving mental health and addiction impairments and law office management issues, 183 lawyers were monitored by the ARDC Probation and Lawyer Deferral Services Department in 2021.
- Conditions Monitored. 43 disciplined lawyers (62.3%) were monitored for substance abuse or mental conditions, of which 30 lawyers were subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
- LAP Referrals. 40 lawyers with pending investigations were referred to LAP, representing about 11% of all LAP referrals during 2021.
The ARDC Annual Report of 2021, as well as a short overview summary of the report, entitled “Highlights,” is available on the ARDC website (www.iardc.org) at https://www.iardc.org/About/AnnualReports.
 The 2020 lawyer population statistics in the 2020 Annual Report are a snapshot of the profession as of August 31, 2020, before the ARDC began registration for 2021 on September 1, 2021.