Zealous Pursuit of a Client’s Endeavors . . . no matter the Consequences
Georgia Bar Rule 1.3 requires a lawyer to “act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. Reasonable diligent . . . means that a lawyer shall not without just cause to the detriment of the client in effect willfully abandon or willfully disregard a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer”. However, how should a lawyer conduct herself when the legal matter identified by the client and entrusted to the lawyer involves the pursuit of unrealistic expectations?
The foundation of a solid attorney/client relationship is open and honest communication. The client must provide the attorney with a true rendition of the facts that led to the family law issue. The attorney must then advise the client of what could happen by applying those facts to the laws of this land and, if at all possible, the knowledge acquired through appearing in the venue in which the case will be tried. Afterwards, the attorney and client should work together and prepare their case strategy. Of course, as new and/or more information is acquired through litigation, the advice and strategy must adapt accordingly.
Comment 1 to Georgia Bar Rule 1.3 states that “a lawyer should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer, and may take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s case or endeavor. A lawyer should act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf . . . A lawyer has professional discretion in determining the means by which a matter should be pursued…” In other words, it is the client who decides what endeavors to pursue and it is the attorney who decides the method of that pursuit.
Should an attorney refuse to represent a client or withdraw her representation simply because the client has knowingly and informatively chosen a path that is unlikely to yield a positive outcome? With social media and attorney review sites, disgruntled clients have the tools to negatively impact an attorney’s reputation. Despite the warnings of possible consequences, the client often turns on the attorney by posting a negative review for the world to see, or worse yet, filing a Bar complaint when the outcome of their case is not as they had hoped. The attorney may also be attacked by fellow members of the Bar who my seek attorney’s fees personally against an attorney who opts to stand by her client’s endeavors, no matter how unlikely they may be. Obviously, it is simply safer for attorneys to decide not to take on such cases.
However, how does the legal process evolve if members of the Bar coward away from the more challenging cases? Throughout history, changes to the laws of this land began with a client asking an attorney to seek a remedy from the court system that was unlikely to be granted. If such challenges are not made, society would stagnate in a perpetual state of status quo. The court system would be open to only those who are complacent with the way things are and block those who dare to fight for how things should, perhaps, be.
Personally, I believe that everyone deserves to have their day in court and have their story heard. It is my duty to advise the client how the current laws have applied to cases similar to their own. With that advice, if the client decides to pursue either an evolution of the current law or an argument as to why the status quo should not apply to their specific fact pattern, I feel obligated to stand by my client. So long as their expectations are rooted in a sound legal theory, I will not turn a client away.
In short, the legal process does not work without individuals who are brave enough to pursue the unlikely and attorneys who are brave enough to take that path along side of them.