CHICAGO — The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) recently released its 2016 annual report, which shows the fewest number of grievances since 1988.

According to the ARDC report, people filed 5,401 grievances, which also reflects the fourth year in a row that the number of grievances has gone down.

"We're trying to define why," ARDC Deputy Administrator and Chief Counsel James Grogan told the Cook County Record. "As a matter of fact, we received fewer grievances in 2016 than we have since 1988. And in 1988, of course, our attorney population was far less than it is today. In 2016, the attorney population was about 94,600. In 198[8], it was 52,600, so tens of thousands more lawyers, but why such a diminishment in the number of grievances?"

The ARDC reported that 71 percent of grievances happened because attorneys and clients' partnerships weakened. The commission also reported that 29 percent of grievances related to criminal law, while 15 percent had to do with domestic relations, 13 percent were associated with real estate and 12 percent related to tort. The ARDC also reported 11 percent of grievances came from an attorney report.

"I've been here for a long time, and we're seeing something that I think is very, very different," Grogan said. "I think that, and this is borne out by the numbers, but my suspicion is there are fewer attorney-client transactions than in the past, the type of attorney-client transactions that land at a lawyer regulator's desk."

Grogan said 5,554 grievances were presented in 2015.

"Just a couple years before that, for example, in 2012, we fielded 6,397, almost 6,400 investigations," Grogan said. "From 2012 to 2016, that's a pretty profound drop. That's almost a thousand less grievances."

The drop in grievances and the fact that every Illinois lawyer had to contribute to the Client Protection Program jumped out at Grogan as highlights in the report.

"All Illinois lawyers paid $25 to a fund called the Client Protection Program," he said. "Every lawyer pays to this indemnity fund, and there's a cap of a million dollars per lawyer and $100,000 per claim."

The ARDC reported that 48 lawyers paid out nearly $3.1 million to cover 146 claims.

"The numbers are so substantial," Grogan said. "I think that's the biggest thing, the big numbers we're dealing with." 

Grogan said payouts in the early part of the 2000s were below $1 million, and in 2006, Illinois lawyers paid out $843,000 in awards.

"In the early 2000s, we'd see payouts annually of $800,000, $700,000, $600,000," Grogan said. "And now, for the last couple years, we're seeing a million-dollar plus. The last four years ... (brought) about $8 or $9 million in payout, so a substantial amount."

Grogan said the amount of lawyers being disciplined for 'revealing confidential information' while answering negative online reviews is going up around the country.

"That's something that all lawyer regulators are talking about nationwide," he said. "We had one discipline case in that regard where the Illinois Supreme Court entered a sanction last September." 

Grogan offered another possible explanation for the drop in grievances: the growing number of online legal services.

"Another trend that we're talking about, too, and maybe this has something to do with the number of grievances diminishing, is how many more consumers of legal services are going to the internet to seek alternative legal representation," he said. "By that I mean they're going to places like LegalZoom and Avvo and other entities to try to get information on legal representation."

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