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Highlights of the 2020 Annual Report of the ARDC

3/30/2021

Highlights of the 2020 Annual Report of the ARDC

By: Mary F. Andreoni, ARDC Ethics Education Senior Counsel

April 26, 2021

Shortly before May 1 of each year, the ARDC submits its annual report to the Court chronicling all ARDC activities and initiatives, as well as an accounting of ARDC’s finances, during the prior year. The 2020 Annual Report of the ARDC provides a comprehensive, statistical snapshot of the legal profession in Illinois. Highlights from this year’s report are:

2020 Illinois Lawyer Population

  • Registered Lawyers. The 2020 Master Roll of Attorneys for the state of Illinois numbered 94,907 attorneys, a 0.3% increase over 2019, and closely tracking the virtually static rate of growth in overall lawyer population in the United States for the last five years. 
  • Illinois had a much slower rate of growth (4.4%) as compared to the rate of growth in other states with the largest number of lawyers: New York (17.0%); California (10.1%); Texas (20.5%); and Florida (26.2%). 
  • Age and Years in Practice. Continuing a trend noted in the 2019 ARDC Annual Report, there was a small but consistent shift in the years in practice and age demographics for Illinois lawyers. Lawyers 30+ years in practice and 50 to 74 years old increased 1%, while lawyers between 5 and 10 years in practice and 30 to 49 years old decreased by 1% over 2019.
  • Principle Business Location. 65,723 or 69.3% of active and inactive attorneys reported a principal business address in Illinois, a net gain of 616 lawyers or 0.5% increase over 2019. 29,184 or 30.7% of registered attorneys reported a principal address outside Illinois in 2020. This breakdown is consistent with the average percentage reported since 2014.  
  • Out-of-State Illinois-licensed Lawyers. Of the 29,184 lawyers who practice outside of Illinois, 68.2% hold a license in another jurisdiction in addition to their Illinois license. The top five jurisdictions where these out-of-state lawyers are located are: Missouri, District of Columbia, California, New York, and Wisconsin. 
  • Metro Chicago Lawyers. Of the 65,723 active and inactive lawyers located in Illinois, 86.7% or 57,007 lawyers in Illinois practice within the six most populous counties in the state (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will). 
  • Cook County. 82.4% or 46,951 lawyers in Illinois are found in Cook County. Of the five judicial districts, only the First District (Cook County) lawyer population has increased since 2016.
  • Downstate. 13.3% or 8,716 lawyers in Illinois are located in the remaining 96 counties of the state. There was little overall change in the 102 counties in Illinois over the prior year.
  • Gender. 39% of registered lawyers identify as female but make up only 30% of lawyers in private practice; however, female lawyers comprise 43% or more in every other practice setting, including nearly 50% in government/judicial roles and the majority (63.7%) in the not-for-profit setting.
  • Private Practice. Of the 48,798 of lawyers with an active status license, engaged in the practice of law and in private practice, sole practitioners make up the largest practice size setting at 27.4%. The next largest practice size setting are lawyers at law firms with 100+ lawyers at 26%. The smallest practice size setting are lawyers in law firms of 11 to 25 lawyers at 9.4%. Sole practitioners and lawyers in firms of 2 to 10 lawyers account for 53% of lawyers actively practicing in private practice.

2020 Investigations

  • During 2020, the Commission docketed 3,936 investigation s, 1,001 fewer investigations than in 2019; a 20.3% drop from the previous year and the largest single-year decline.  The sharp decline in 2020 over 2019 is likely due to the impact of the pandemic and the slowdown of the legal system; however, this continues a trend of declining caseload pre-pandemic beginning in 2013. Other probable factors impacting caseload might be the reported five-year decline in the number of new cases filed in Illinois courts, a significant rise in the number of consumers with legal matters who are self-represented, a graying of the legal profession, and the continuing decline in the Illinois population. 
  • 3,027 attorneys were the subject of an investigation in 2020; 464 or 15.3% had more than one investigation docketed in 2020; and 420 or 13.9% had been disciplined by the Court in the past.
  • 66.4% of grievances stemmed 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). Neglect of a client’s matter was alleged in 32.1% of all grievances in 2020. Consistent with prior years, the top subject areas most likely to lead to a grievance of attorney misconduct were criminal law, domestic relations, tort, real estate, and probate.
  • Despite the pandemic shutdown and remote work environment, ARDC staff lawyers were able to maintain the Commission’s policy that disciplinary matters be handled expeditiously. More than 95% of grievances where no misconduct was alleged were concluded within 60 days of the docketing of the grievance and 53% requiring investigation were closed within 90 days of receipt. 

2020 Disciplinary Prosecutions

  • In 2020, 40 cases were added to the Hearing Board’s docket in 2020, a 21.6% decrease over 2019, and continuing a trend of declining investigative and prosecutorial caseload since 2013.
  • Of the 40 cases filed before the Hearing Board in 2020, 37 were initiated by the filing of a new disciplinary complaint and three were filed by lawyers seeking reinstatement to the practice of law.
  • Most lawyers charged with misconduct were 30 or more years in practice (43%), 50 to 74 years of Age (65%), and male (92%). 
  • Fraudulent or deceptive activity was the basis for 81% of the misconduct charges, followed by criminal conduct or conviction of the lawyer at 24%, and improper handling of trust funds and failure to communicate at 22% each. 
  • The top five subject areas involved in the complaints were: the lawyer’s own criminal conduct or conviction (22%), real estate (19%), probate (14%), criminal law (14%), and domestic relations (11%). 

2020 Disciplinary Sanctions

  • 81 lawyers were sanctioned by the Court and one lawyer was reprimanded by the ARDC Hearing Board in 2020.
  • Nearly 50% of lawyers disciplined in 2020 were disbarred (23) or suspended until further order of the court (17).
  • 41% of the lawyers disciplined in 2020 had their principal business location outside of Illinois.
  • 39% were at 30+ years in practice.
  • 46% were sole practitioners.
  • 29%, had at least one substance abuse or mental impairment issues, and seven lawyers or 29% had more than one identified impairment.  In addition, 58% of disciplined lawyers with identified impairments were sole practitioners at the time of the misconduct.   

The ARDC Annual Report of 2020, as well as a short overview summary of the report, entitled “Highlights,” is available on the ARDC website (www.iardc.org) beginning May 1, 2021 at https://www.iardc.org/AnnualReport2020.pdf.
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