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Women are much less likely than men to be disciplined for violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. And it’s not just because there are far fewer women lawyers in Texas. According to statistics on publicly reported disciplinary actions in Texas, only about 14.1 percent of the lawyers who were disciplined in 2000, 2001, and thus far in 2002 are women. The percentage would be about 28 percent if women were disciplined in proportion to their membership in the State Bar of Texas. The statistics aren’t surprising to five Texas lawyers who do legal malpractice and grievance work and have a good handle on which lawyers are the targets of complaints from clients. “That squares with what I would have thought without doing a statistical analysis,” says Dawn Miller, chief disciplinary counsel for the Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline. But Miller and others say they only can speculate as to why women are less likely to get disbarred, suspended or hit with a public reprimand, or decide to resign in lieu of discipline. Taking a stab at explaining the disparity, the lawyers come up with plenty of reasons: It could be women are less greedy, or better at dealing with clients. They could do a better job of making their case before a grievance committee. It also could be, one lawyer says, a bias on the part of the members of the grievance panels who decide whether lawyers should be disciplined for their actions. The statistics show a consistent trend. In 2000, 23 of 159 public disciplinary actions were against women, for 14.5 percent of the total. In 2001, it was 13.7 percent, with 32 of 233. And in the first six months of 2002, 14.3 percent of the total, 27 of 188 public disciplinary actions, are against women. But when it comes to disbarment — the harshest action — women comprise only 10.5 percent of the Texas lawyers who received that punishment during the 30-month period. Only one of 12 lawyers who were disbarred in 2000 was a woman, for 8.3 percent of the total, and it was five of 50 in 2001, for 10 percent. Through June of this year, four of 33 lawyers who lost their licenses are women, for 12.9 percent of the total. The statistics were calculated from information provided by the State Bar of Texas. The Bar doesn’t maintain statistics on the gender of the lawyers who are disciplined, but Texas Lawyer figured out the breakdown by examining the names on the Bar’s list. (The gender of lawyers with ambiguous names was provided on request by the Bar.) MORE ETHICAL? Miller, who prosecuted disciplinary suits for 10 years, says the criminal-defense area is by far the most prolific for complaints, followed by family law and personal-injury law. So while a disproportionately high number of women do family law, a much smaller percentage do PI and criminal defense, she says, which could have something to do with the distribution of discipline. Miller says women may be disciplined less frequently because of their people skills and their ability to settle conflicts with clients. “It might mean that they resolve things with them in a different way. But honestly I don’t have any light-bulb-turning-on-notions on it,” she says. “One would hope that it means that women work hard in assuring their clients are handled well.” Houston’s Larry Doherty, a longtime critic of the grievance system, suggests that women lawyers simply tend to be more ethical because they don’t have “warlike, overbearing and unresponsive” instincts. “There is an inherently ethical barometer that is part of the makeup of women in the Bar. It is a refreshing breath of clean air to me,” he says. Doherty, who does a lot of work representing plaintiffs in legal malpractice litigation, says he believes women are also less likely than men to be named as a defendant in a malpractice action. Doherty, a partner in Houston-based Doherty Long Wagner, says that in decades of suing lawyers, he can recall only five or six times when a female lawyer was a defendant. That’s the case probably only 1 percent of the time, he says. Steve Smoot, a Bar prosecutor from 1982 to 1989, agrees with Doherty that female lawyers may be more ethical than male lawyers. “I just don’t perceive that they do all the crap that men lawyers do,” he says. Smoot, a solo practitioner in Houston who does grievance and malpractice suits, says women may simply be less greedy than men who are practicing law and more caring of their clients. He also says that women are less likely to be disciplined because a relatively high percentage practice in-house or in government, where they would be less likely to be subject to a grievance filed by a disgruntled client. Sharon Conway, a solo practitioner in The Woodlands who used to prosecute grievance cases for the Bar, says age may help explain why women are less likely to be disciplined. She says women lawyers are on average younger than men, and it’s her experience that younger lawyers are less likely to have grievances filed against them. “It doesn’t make sense that older lawyers would get in trouble. You’d think they’ve had the rules [in mind],” says Conway, who worked for the State Bar from 1993 to 1994. Miller says the average age of a lawyer who is disciplined in Texas is about 40. Robert S. Bennett, of Houston’s Bennett Law Firm, says he believes grievance panels are simply more lenient toward women. He cites an instance recently in which he represented a woman at a grievance hearing in a county north of Houston. He says the grievance had to do with a trust fund, and he was quite sure before the hearing his client would get suspended, or the panel would, at the least, issue a private reprimand. “She said it was her office manager, and she got rid of that person, and they let her skate,” Bennett recalls. “I think there is this perception that if women are caught, the issue is raised with them, and they won’t do it again. But with men, they will do it again.” He says it may be a bias against men. Miller disputes Bennett’s suggestion, saying, “I’m really heartened to hear this because I’m sure some people are sure women are treated more harshly.” She says the difference between the treatment of men and women at grievance hearings has more to do with demeanor than gender. “It’s so driven by their attitude and approach. I’m not talking about the easy cases where there was nothing or the easy ones where something was done wrong,” she says. “I’m talking about the gray cases.”

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