Five Common Misconceptions

About the New Jersey Ethics Process

Discussing Common Misconceptions NJ Ethics

What you don’t know can hurt you: an attorney’s inaccurate assumptions about the ethics process can back them into an ethics grievance.

There are a number of misconceptions about the New Jersey ethics process relating to the fact that the attorney responding to an ethics grievance may not be familiar in advance with its nuances. Indeed, one of the more obscure aspects of the ethics process is that otherwise acceptable approaches in civil or criminal matters may be precluded. The following are five of the more notable examples.

Five Misconceptions About the New Jersey Ethics Process

1.First, plea bargaining is not allowed. That is one of the seminal differences between the ethics process and criminal law (in which plea bargaining comports with public policy).

2. Second, if the grievance relates to payment of money, remitting the amount in dispute does not end the matter. (However, it can be taken into account as a mitigating factor respecting the quantum of discipline.)

3. Third, in an ethics matter relating to inadequate compliance with trust account procedures, whether a check bounced is not dispositive of a finding that the respondent breached their ethical duties. An example of this would be if the reason the check did not bounce was that one client’s funds were used to cover a check drawn for a different client.

4. Fourth, the fact that the grievant was in a compromised emotional state when they asserted that their attorney violated ethics is generally irrelevant.

5. Fifth, the fact that the grievant unsuccessfully stated a basis to conclude that an ethical violation occurred does not preclude the investigator from finding that it did, i.e. that there were violations that the grievant failed to assert, but, that the investigator may have learned thereafter.

The key to successfully navigating the ethics grievance and complaint procedure is to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. While admittedly, it is offensive to be accused of failing to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct, that has to be set aside. The attorney must approach the matter dispassionately.

For this reason, it is advisable to hire outside counsel to defend the respondent. That is true notwithstanding the fact that the client also happens to be a lawyer. That may seem contradictory, but it is generally the best practice.

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Looking for advice?

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Contact the Nissenbaum Law Group to schedule an appointment at 908-686-8000 or feel free to use the following form to e-mail us. Please include as much information as you can to ensure that we are able to handle your request as quickly as possible.

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