I started this blog by doing a chronological search of cases of attorney discipline for failure to diligently handle client matters. Most cases involved attorneys with additional unrelated problems, typically misappropriation of client funds or, unsurprisingly, the failure to cooperate with Disciplinary Counsel that I highlighted in the initial blog in this series (unsurprising because attorneys who are undiligent in their work are likely undiligent in other areas). Two more recent cases involved Charleston attorneys I know and like.
In the Matter of Blackmon, 368 S.C. 505, 629 S.E.2d 369 (2006) is the most recent disciplinary opinion to deal solely with diligence towards clients issues for an attorney I don’t know. Given Mr. Blackmon’s repeated discipline due lack of diligence towards clients– See In the Matter of Blackmon, 361 S.C. 641, 606 S.E.2d 777 (2004); In the Matter of Blackmon, 344 S.C. 83, 543 S.E.2d 559 (2001); In the Matter of Blackmon, 309 S.C. 400, 424 S.E.2d 472 (1992); In the Matter of Blackmon, 295 S.C. 333, 368 S.E.2d 465 (1988)–I don’t feel like I am picking on him by highlighting his problems.
South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3 reads “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Clients rightly expect attorneys to do the work they were retained to do. The Supreme Court rightly disciplines attorneys who fail to live up to this most basic obligation of our profession.
The lack of diligence towards handling client matters is typically coupled with other violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.1 (lawyer shall provide competent representation to client) and Rule 1.4 (lawyer shall keep client reasonably informed about status of a matter). In Blackmon’s case there were further issues with financial and record keeping diligence, leading him to being found in violation of Rule 1.15 (lawyer shall promptly deliver to client any property client is entitled to receive) and Rule 1.16 (upon termination of representation, lawyer shall surrender property to which client is entitled).
The lesson of Blackmon: do the work you’re retained to do.