Attorney E-Newsletter

June 2005

Rule 1.4: Communication

Since the adoption of Rule 1.4, regarding communication with clients, as part of the Rules of Professional Conduct in 1988, that rule has probably resulted in more disciplinary inquiries than any other. The changes to Rule 1.4 in the 2004 amendments are not dramatic, but due to the fact that client communication is a daily fact of many lawyers' lives, those changes are worth reviewing.

All of the requirements of the pre-2005 rule are carried over intact. Rule 1.4(b), which requires a lawyer to "explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation," is unchanged. The two provisions of old Rule 1.4(a) have become RPC 1.4(a)(3) and (4). Three new requirements are added:

  • New Rule 1.4(a)(1) requires that a lawyer promptly inform a client of any decision or circumstance where the client's informed consent is required.
  • New Rule 1.4(a)(2) requires that the lawyer " reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished," not just the goals themselves.
  • New Rule 1.4(e) requires that the lawyer " 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." Essentially this requires the lawyer to affirmatively identify and discuss any situation where the lawyer realizes the client expects the lawyer to take action which the lawyer is not permitted to do.

Changes to the Comments to Rule 1.4 also cast some new light on a lawyer's responsibilities for communication. New Comment 2 discusses situations involving authority to settle civil cases or plea bargains in criminal cases, which are also addressed by Rule 1.2(a). Comment 3 discusses situations where due to exigencies of time, a lawyer may have to act without prior consultation with the client. Comment 4 contains some sage advice as a general principle of client communications:

When a client makes a reasonable request for information, however, [Rule 1.4(a)] requires prompt compliance with the request, or if a prompt response is not feasible, that the lawyer, or a member of the lawyer's staff, acknowledge receipt of the request and advise the client when a response may be expected. Client telephone calls should be promptly returned or acknowledged.

Tip of the Month

NEVER have a client sign an affidavit, verification, or other sworn statement for a pleading or document of legal significance to be attached later, even if it is for the client's convenience. Such conduct could place the client in jeopardy for false swearing should the paper attached later contain inaccuracies. Attaching a signature page or verification executed by a client who has not read the document in advance is considered dishonest conduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice under RPC 8.4, and will be prosecuted by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel if discovered.

Attorney Registration

The new 2005-2006 PA Attorney's Annual Fee Form is now easier than ever to access and complete! By simply clicking on the Attorney Forms menu on the Disciplinary Board's website, a pdf will appear, allowing the attorney's information to be typed on the computer. After the information has been inserted, the document can be printed, signed and mailed to the Lawyer Assessment Office at P.O. Box 46, Camp Hill, PA 17001-0046, together with the attorney's check or money order in the amount of $175.00. We do not accept credit card payments or electronic filing of the Annual Fee Form.