A woman came to my office for help with her divorce case, but there is another lawyer representing her now. May I speak with her?
Yes, unless you currently represent someone whose interests are adverse to hers. Rule 4.2 does not prohibit a disinterested lawyer from providing a second opinion to someone who is currently represented by counsel.
How do I obtain a disciplinary history?
Any member seeking a disciplinary history that includes information about grievances or actions that are currently pending in confidential status, or about private discipline, should send their written request to the Office of the General Counsel, State Bar of Georgia, 104 Marietta Street, Suite 100, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, Attn: Deloise Mathews. The request must include the member's explicit authorization to release such information. Requests sent via email are not accepted. There is no cost to a member requesting their own disciplinary history.
How long should I keep closed client files?
The ethics rules don't require a lawyer to keep closed files for any particular length of time. The exception is trust account records. Rule 1.15(I) does require that a lawyer keep trust account records for at least six years after the case is over. There is a four year statute of limitations for disciplinary investigations; Rule 4-222 provides that the statute may be tolled up to two years in certain situations. You should also take into account potential malpractice claims and other law when making a decision to destroy a file.
I'd like to offer my paralegal a bonus based on the legal fees I've taken in each month. Is that ethical?
Rule 5.4 discusses a lawyer splitting a legal fee with a nonlawyer. Formal Advisory Opinion 05-4 provides that it is ethically proper for a lawyer to compensate nonlawyer employees based upon a plan that is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement.
I'm leaving my law firm. May I tell the clients whose files I have worked on that I am opening my own practice?
Formal Advisory Opinion 97-3 holds that a lawyer who is leaving a firm may ethically notify those clients he or she has actively represented. The communication may be oral or written. The lawyer may advise the client of the lawyer's departure, provide a new address, and notify the client of the lawyer's willingness to provide legal services to the client.
I've been fired but the client still owes part of my fee. May I keep her file until she pays?
If keeping the file will be detrimental to the client's interests, you may not hold the file to guarantee payment of your fee. Rule 1.16(d) and Formal Advisory Opinion 87-5 provide further guidance on this issue.
I've graduated from law school, taken the Bar Exam and am working in a law office. Can I call myself a lawyer?
No! Even if you have passed the Bar, you must be sworn in by a court and registered with the State Bar of Georgia before you are licensed to practice law in the state. Until then you may not give legal advice to anyone. You may not appear in court or sign your name on a document to be presented to a court (other than for your own personal matters). If a judge allows you to sit with counsel during a hearing, or if you attend a deposition with a licensed attorney, you may not question witnesses or make objections. You are also obligated to clarify your status to anyone who mistakenly believes that you are a lawyer. Be sure that the firm letterhead, website and other publications do not refer to you as a lawyer before you are fully credentialed. There are many tasks that you may perform in a law office while awaiting Bar results and licensing. You may draft briefs or pleadings for a lawyer's review and signature. You may interview clients and witnesses, and pass along legal advice as directed by a lawyer (making it clear that the advice is from a licensed attorney). Formal Advisory Opinions 19, 21 and 00-2 further describe what tasks may appropriately be delegated to a nonlawyer in a law office.
May I take a new case if it will require me to sue a former client?
Maybe. Rule 1.9 allows a lawyer to represent a new client whose interests are adverse to a former client only if the matters are not substantially related, or if the former client consents. Rule 1.6 regarding confidences and secrets also might have some impact on the lawyer's ability to undertake representation adverse to a former client. The rules require a lawyer to make very specific disclosures before obtaining client consent to this type of representation, so please call the Ethics Helpline to talk about your situation with us.
Where can I file a complaint against my attorney or report a problem with my attorney?
The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) of the State Bar of Georgia handles problems between attorneys and clients. CAP has many ways to help solve your problems. For general and statistical information about CAP, please see the CAP Web page. If you wish to speak to a CAP Administrator, please call 1-800-334-6865 and ask for the CAP line, or dial direct to 404-527-8759. CAP cannot receive inquiries by email.