Formal Advisory Opinion No. 05-8
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FORMAL ADVISORY OPINION BOARD NO. 05-8
Approved And Issued On April 4, 2006 Pursuant To Bar Rule 4-403
By Order Of The Supreme Court Of Georgia Thereby Replacing FAO No. 96-2
(Modified to Correct Error Pursuant to Supreme Court Order on April 11, 2008)
Supreme Court Docket No. S06U0800
Please note that in the reference to Rule 1.8(h) in this opinion, Bar Rule 1.8(h) is only quoted in pertinent part.
The question presented is whether an attorney may stamp client correspondence with a notice stating that the client has a particular period of time to notify the lawyer if he/she is dissatisfied with the lawyer and that if the client did not notify the lawyer of his/her dissatisfaction within that period of time, the client would waive any claim for malpractice.
A lawyer shall not make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer's liability to a client for malpractice unless permitted by law and the client is independently represented in making the agreement. Therefore, in the absence of independent representation of the client, the lawyer should not condition the representation of a client upon the waiver of any claim for malpractice and should not attempt to cause the waiver of any claim for malpractice by the inclusion of language amounting to such a waiver in correspondence with a client.
A member of the Investigative Panel of the State Disciplinary Board has brought to the attention of the Formal Advisory Opinion Board a practice by lawyers of adding the following language (by rubber stamp) to correspondence with clients:
If you disagree with anything set forth in this communication or the way I have represented you to date, please notify me by certified mail at the address set forth herein immediately. If I do not hear from you, it shall be an acknowledgment by you per our agreement that you are satisfied with my representation of you to date and you agree with my statements in this communication.
The intended effect of this "message" is to create a short period of time within which the client must decide whether he or she is satisfied with the representation, and if not satisfied, the client must notify the lawyer "immediately." If such notification is not provided "immediately," the client will have acknowledged an "agreement" that the client is satisfied with the representation.
It is apparent from reviewing this "message" that the lawyer is attempting to exonerate himself or herself from any claim of malpractice or to cause a waiver of any claim for malpractice by the client against the lawyer. By attempting to limit his or her liability for malpractice or to cause a waiver of any claim for malpractice, the lawyer is putting himself or herself into an adversarial relationship with the client. While providing advice to the client on the one hand, the lawyer is attempting to limit or excuse his or her liability for claims of malpractice resulting from the provision of such advice on the other hand. Such conduct places the lawyer's personal interests ahead of the interests of the client. This conduct is expressly forbidden by Rule 1.8(h), which provides that "A lawyer shall not make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer's liability to a client for malpractice unless permitted by law and the client is independently represented in making the agreement."
In summary, the use of a message or notice, such as described herein, is a violation of Rule 1.8(h), and subjects an attorney to discipline, for which the maximum penalty is a public reprimand.
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