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Are female attorneys more ethical than male attorneys? Or are they only less likely to occupy a position where they can do wrong? Or are they less likely to have ethics problems because they are better than men at client relations? Whatever the reason, of the 177 New Jersey attorneys disciplined last year, only 21, or about 12 percent, were women, according to the Summary of Public Discipline for 2001 released by the Office of Attorney Ethics. The figures are no fluke. During the past five years, women accounted for almost 11 percent of attorneys disciplined, 94 of 890. In 2000, it was 13 percent, or 21 out of 162; in 1999, 8.6 percent, or 16 out of 185; in 1998, 11.9 percent, or 19 out of 160; and in 1997, 8.3 percent, or 17 out of 206. The OAE does not keep track of gender, but women made up 29.3 percent of the nation’s lawyers in 2001, according to figures released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The gap between discipline for men and women is even wider for the most severe penalties, disbarment and license revocation. Last year, of the 32 attorneys who lost their New Jersey law licenses, three, or 9.4 percent, were women. The five-year average is 6.3 percent. That includes 1999, when not one of the 42 disbarred lawyers was a woman, and 1997, when only one woman was among 50 disbarred attorneys. The highest percentage of women among disbarred lawyers was in 1998, when they accounted for five out of 39, or 12.8 percent. The gap is narrowest for the least serious form of discipline: admonition. One-third of the lawyers admonished last year were women, 10 out of 30, which is well above the 17.9 percent average for the past five years. Colette Coolbaugh, president of the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association and a former executive counsel to the Disciplinary Review Board, says the discipline gap is partly due to the simple fact that there are fewer women lawyers than men in private practice. Women lawyers tend to gravitate toward in-house and public jobs, says Coolbaugh, where the more structured environment of corporate and government work also reduces the likelihood of conflicts and mishandled cases. Women lawyers may also be inclined to work at home, often writing appellate briefs as a pool attorney for the public defender. “There is zero possibility she can neglect her work or have a conflict or screw up with money,” says Coolbaugh, of Lawrenceville, who no longer practices law but does consulting work in attorney-malpractice cases. Seton Hall Law School ethics professor Michael Ambrosio says that women might be under less pressure than a male attorney to make ends meet, a situation known for providing both motive and opportunity for filching funds and other attorney misdeeds. “Fewer women are engaged in solo practice and are using the legal practice as the sole support of the family,” he says. Ambrosio, a member of the Supreme Court’s Professional Responsibility Rules Committee, says “men tend to be more prone to alcoholism and gambling vices,” which are often tied to misappropriation and other misconduct. Age also matters, in Ambrosio’s view. Despite the increasing number of women attorneys, they are still less represented among older, more senior attorneys. And in his experience, “the most serious ethical matters tend to involve lawyers who are more advanced in age.” Younger lawyers are less likely to bungle cases because they handle less complex matters and are “rarely in a position to have access to huge sums of money,” he says. Ambrosio says he doubts that women have higher innate ethical standards but suggests “they may approach ethical reasoning in a very different way” that involves looking at ethics matters not in terms of principles, rights and rules alone, but also in terms of “the relationship of the parties and the ethics of care as opposed to an ethics of rights.” One woman, an associate at a large firm, says that in her 20 years of practice, she has found women to be more likely than men to be friendly to clients, return their calls and keep them up to date. She also says “women who tend to go into law are more idealistic.” At least some research backs her up. A 1997 American University Law Review article, “Lawyer, Know Thyself: A Review of Empirical Research on Attorney Attributes Bearing on Professionalism,” reported on studies showing significant differences between men and women in their stated reasons for entering law school. Men were “consistently more likely … to admit that a desire to make money motivated their decision,” and females more likely “to cite altruistic reasons for becoming a lawyer,” according to the article (46 Am. U.L. Rev. 1337). OTHER ETHICS FINDINGS The 2001 discipline summary also showed: Disbarments Are Down Last year’s 32 disbarments and revocations were the lowest in the past five years. They range from 39 in 1998 to a high of 50 in 1997. Almost all involved knowing misappropriation or a criminal conviction. Communication Breakdown The most frequent reason for discipline was gross neglect and failure to get back to clients. Penalties varied widely, from admonitions to suspensions, several as long as one year, with the heavier penalties given usually where lawyers lied to cover up their mishandling of cases or had prior breaches. Attitude Adjustment The one attorney disciplined for any type of discriminatory behavior was reprimanded and ordered to undergo 20 hours of sensitivity training for making sexist comments and touching the buttocks of a female client. Venomous Acts The more bizarre misdeeds included the lawyer reprimanded for importing rattlesnakes, and another reprimanded for “intimidating and contemptuous” behavior toward an administrative law judge, including filing 100 motions for recusal. Essex Wins Booby Prize The county with the most lawyers once again led the state with 32 of the 162 disciplined in-state attorneys. In 2000, 5,208 of the state’s 29,815 attorneys were from Essex. With roughly 18 percent of the lawyers, Essex had 20 percent of the disciplinary cases. The other highest-disciplined counties were Bergen, 17 lawyers; Middlesex, 16; Camden, 14; and Union, 13. Monmouth and Atlantic tied with 11. Passaic Near Perfect Based on the number of practicing lawyers, Passaic lawyers did the best job of staying out of trouble. With 914 lawyers, about 3 percent of the total, it had only 0.6 percent of the discipline handed out last year, and that was a single lawyer reprimanded for negligent misappropriation and failure to answer clients’ questions about their cases. The Best of the Rest Cumberland and Cape May counties, with 206 and 174 attorneys, respectively, saw one of them disciplined last year. And the Worst Atlantic County showed the highest percentage of ethics lapses. Its 619 lawyers, just above 2 percent of the total, accounted for 11 of the disciplinary infractions, or nearly 7 percent of the total.

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