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the client’s good will and potential referral of other clients. Many such complaints can be easily avoided by maintaining an efficient case management system that results in regular review of files and communication with clients. Neglect of a case often goes hand in hand with a lawyer’s

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including the lawyer’s practice size and support staff and the handling of any unusually time-consuming matter(s). A solo practitioner with significant support staff and an efficiently organized practice may be able to handle the same volume of client matters as a small or mid-sized firm with multiple lawyers, but the solo practitioner may have to implement different measures to ensure that all matters are being handled in a manner consistent with the professional obligations of the lawyer. See Rule 5.3, defining Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants. Comment 3 to Rule 1.3 provides this additional nugget

of wisdom as to why lack of diligence is a common genesis for client complaints: “Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination.” Many complaints received by Bar Counsel involve neglect of cases in which the client’s interests may not yet have been affected in substance but, as Comment 3 contemplates, in which “unreasonable delay” has caused the client “needless anxiety” and undermined the client’s “confidence in the lawyer’s trustworthiness.” Even though such complaints may not result in formal discipline, they require the time and effort it takes to respond to Bar Counsel and possibly appearing before a Peer Review Panel. Perhaps more significantly, the lawyer will suffer the loss of

16 Trial Reporter / Winter 2012

failure to return the client’s phone calls and/or to respond to written communications. In the previously cited De La Paz case, one client’s numerous telephone messages “were met with silence,” and the respondent did not respond to a second client’s letters regarding his case. 418 Md. at 554. Respondent De La Paz failed to inform one client that his case had been dismissed, and he “neglected to apprise [both] clients that he had moved his practice and/or did not provide them with his new contact information.” Id.

Tis impermissible lack of

communication violated Rule 1.4 and provided further support for the sanction of disbarment in that case. Communication issues often can be avoided by making

the client aware at the inception of representation what the communication protocol is going to be, and then sticking to it. Tis may include a pre-established schedule for periodic written updates, even when there are no new developments to report.

Regardless of any protocol, Comment 4 to Rule

1.4 emphasizes the point that whenever a client makes a reasonable request for information, “paragraph (a) (3) 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.” A client with a lawyer who does not return phone calls quickly becomes a frustrated client who is more likely to file a grievance. Beyond the necessity of being reactive to a client’s specific

requests for information, a lawyer must be proactive in keeping the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, including any “significant developments affecting the timing or substance of the representation.” Rule 1.4, Comment 3. In the area of personal injury representation, a client generally should be notified of any settlement offers received and when suit is filed on behalf of the client. Once a case is in litigation, the lawyer should keep the client informed about all court dates, any discovery requests directed to the client, and any additional settlement discussions. Upon receiving a proposal made in a negotiation, “the lawyer should review all important provisions [with the client] before proceeding to an agreement.” Rule 1.4, Comment 5. Although the lawyer is required to explain a settlement offer to the extent reasonably necessary to have the client make an informed decision, Rule 1.2(a) makes clear that “[a] lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision whether to settle a matter.”

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