A lawyer’s duty of communication under Rule 1.4

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances, Legal Malpractice

At a recent seminar, Douglas Chandler asked if any of the attendees knew that Rule 1.4 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct had been amended in the last several years. Most attendees were not aware of the changes. Now Rule 1.4, including the new information in italics, reads as follows:

  1. A lawyer shall:

    1. promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(h), is required by these Rules;
    2. reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
    3. keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
    4. promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
    5. consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
  2. A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is a public reprimand.

How does Rule 1.4 apply to both lawyer and client?

The old rule only required a lawyer explain a matter “to the extent reasonably necessary” for an “informed decision” by the client. So, the new rule adds some timing and circumstances guidelines for what lawyers are required to do. Basically, a lawyer must act reasonably and promptly to communicate necessary information to the client. This is for two reasons. First, so that the client can make an informed decision about the representation. And second, so the lawyer can then act on behalf of the client and in the client’s best interests.

We receive hundreds of calls every quarter from potential clients mad at their lawyers. And the most common complaint, by far, revolves around the frequency and thoroughness of the communication between lawyer and client. Usually the complaint involves an alleged total lack of communication. We also receive calls from lawyers who aren’t sure what or how they need to share with their clients.

Under the rule, a total failure to communicate would certainly not be “prompt” or “reasonable.” Obviously, such a total failure could lead to a bar grievance or a legal malpractice claim. So, if your lawyer won’t communicate with you at all, feel free to give us a call to discuss. And, if you’re a lawyer having trouble understanding what your duties are to your client, we’re happy to talk. We can help you fulfill your duties, mitigate your risk, and hopefully prevent the filing of a claim or grievance.

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