Understanding Basic Due Diligence: The American Bar Association is NOT a Regulatory Authority

This is an educational series where I help everyone try to understand basic due diligence including the fundamentals of where lies come from especially as it relates to the American Bar Association and U.S.-based attorneys and companies, and how they are promulgated by unsuspecting entities and malicious actors.

Introduction

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a well-known name in the legal field, but there are common misunderstandings about its actual role, especially regarding the regulation of lawyers. This article aims to clarify what the ABA does and does not do, and why claims of being “regulated by the ABA” or any variation thereof should be seen as a major red flag when dealing with attorneys. As seen here

https://gresham-international.gitbook.io/gresham-international-website-documents/regulator-information

Not only is the American Bar Association not a regulatory body, but neither is the Ukraine Bar Association, or the British Blockchain Association. More on theses, especially the last one in the future. (https://uba.ua/eng/about and https://britishblockchainassociation.org/)

What is the American Bar Association?

Founded in 1878, the American Bar Association is a voluntary professional organization for lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals in the United States. It is important to understand that the ABA is not a government agency, and membership is not required to practice law.

Key points about the ABA:

1. It is a private, nonprofit organization

2. Membership is voluntary, not mandatory for lawyers

3. It does not have governmental authority to license, discipline, or regulate attorneys

The ABA’s Actual Role

While the ABA does not directly regulate lawyers, it still plays several important roles in the legal profession:

1. Accrediting law schools to ensure educational standards

2. Developing model ethical codes and rules of professional conduct which state bars may choose to adopt

3. Providing continuing legal education resources for attorneys

4. Advocating for the legal profession and justice system

However, none of these roles equate to the ability to license, oversee, or discipline individual lawyers or law firms. Though they can toss people out of their membership like the New York Bar Association, another voluntary professional organization, did to Rudy Giuliani. (https://nysba.org/nysba-removes-rudy-giuliani-from-its-membership/)

Who Really Regulates Lawyers?

“We are ungovernable!!!!” (just kidding) In the States, the licensing and regulation of attorneys is handled at the state level, not by the ABA or any other national organization with the unique exceptions for federal courts and the Supreme Court of the United States but even then you need a state license first. These licenses are handled by the court and/or jurisdiction that issued them. However, it is generally the state in which that attorney holds a license that should handle the complaint. Each state has its own:

– Bar “authority”, which lawyers must join to practice in that state

– Supreme court or other regulatory body overseeing the practice of law

– Rules of professional conduct that attorneys must follow

– Disciplinary system to investigate and punish ethical violations

These state entities are responsible for:

– Determining admission to the state bar, often through bar exams (this is changing and Wisconsin allows for “diploma privledge” where a law student becomes a lawyer in Wisconsin if the law school signs off on the admission) (More here: https://www.wicourts.gov/services/attorney/bar.htm)

– Establishing and enforcing binding ethical rules

– Investigating complaints against lawyers and issuing discipline

– Suspending or disbarring attorneys who commit serious violations

Red Flags: Claims of ABA Regulation

Given that the ABA is not a regulatory body, any lawyer who claims to be “regulated by the ABA” or brags about having a membership in the ABA is waving a bright red flag. Or any other voluntary professional organization. Such claims are highly problematic because:

1. They fundamentally misrepresent how attorney regulation works in the U.S.

2. They may intentionally or negligently mislead consumers about oversight

3. They attempt to deflect from the actual authorities that can hold the lawyer accountable

4. They demonstrate a lack of basic knowledge about the profession that could signal broader issues

As seen here, the “Memberships” are misleading for several reasons:

  • A Ukraine Bar Association membership does not necessarily mean that the person is a Ukrainian lawyer.
  • The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a not-for-profit organization that regulates broker-dealers in the United States, does not have a “Registered Legal Professional” license.
  • The Wisconsin Bar Association is a voluntary professional organization and does not regulate lawyers.
  • Using an American Bar Association ID to portray what can only be presumed as a falsity, especially after other flagrant lies and misrepresentations, is highly misleading.
  • The term “U.S. Securities Specialist” is meaningless and equivalent to saying you’re a “Magical Music Machine.”
  • The Commonwealth Lawyers Association is a voluntary professional association for legal practitioners in Commonwealth member countries and does not have regulatory authority.

(We will go into the use of “Titles” in another Due Diligence blog post! Stay tuned!)

All these things take time to Google or search around but it will eventually lead you to the conclusion that this person is misrepresenting themselves including by failing to use their entire name. Most lawyers, especially those with common names, use not only their first and last name but also their middle initial if there are too many similarly name lawyers or they want to make it clear who they are.

For example, there is a brilliant graphic designer named Jonathan Dunsmoor in California. We connected many moons ago and when I realized, he was born before me, I figured he deserved the full name without the sometimes pesky initial so professionally, I went by Jonathan C. Dunsmoor. Remember when a lawyer hides their name, titles, and/or licenses they are hiding much more.

In short, attorneys making these claims are either ignorant of the basics of their field or are trying to deceive potential clients. Neither scenario inspires confidence.

Due Diligence When Hiring a Lawyer

As a consumer of legal services, you can take steps to ensure you hire a properly licensed and regulated attorney:

1. Verify their license status directly with your state’s bar regulatory authority. A simple Google search for “(Name of the state) law directory” should yield a .gov website that will allow you to input information including the name of the attorney

2. Check if they have a disciplinary record with state regulators (As you can test here with my name https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/attorneyservices/search?0 and more on that story here, https://paragraph.xyz/@dunsmoor.eth/nogooddeed)

3. Be extremely wary of any unsupported claims about being “ABA regulated” or claims “membership” as away of hiding or promoting that they are regulated by other organizations.

4. Inquire about their specific experience handling cases like yours

5. Get clear information on fees and billing practices up front

6. Trust your instincts about their transparency and professionalism

Remember, oversight comes from state bar regulatory authorities and supreme courts, not voluntary organizations like the ABA.

Conclusion

Understanding basic due diligence is tough, and while the American Bar Association is a respected organization that contributes to the legal field, it is not a substitute for actual regulatory bodies. Attorneys who hide behind claims of “ABA regulation” or other such false claims must be approached with a critical eye. To protect your interests, look to your state bar for information on an attorney’s standing and qualifications. Maintaining the integrity of the legal profession depends on lawyers being accountable to official state oversight, not membership clubs.

The public should feel empowered to ask questions and expect straight answers when hiring an attorney. By understanding the true role of the ABA and recognizing red flags, consumers can make more informed decisions when seeking legal representation.

It’s worth noting that this pattern of misrepresentation is not limited to the ABA. Other voluntary organizations, such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Ukrainian Bar Association, are also sometimes falsely portrayed as regulatory bodies. These associations, while potentially valuable for networking and education, do not have the authority to license or discipline lawyers in their respective jurisdictions. As with the ABA, claims of being regulated by these organizations should be met with skepticism. If you have questions, always ask them from the regulator or files a complaint! This is the website to the American Bar Association for more resources: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/resources/resources_for_the_public/

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