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Rule 1.3 Diligence

A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.


[1] A lawyer should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer, and take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client's cause or endeavor. A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client's behalf. A lawyer is not bound, however, to press for every advantage that might be realized for a client. For example, a lawyer may have authority to exercise professional discretion in determining the means by which a matter should be pursued. SeeRule 1.2. The lawyer's duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.

[2] A lawyer's work load must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently.

[3] Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination. A client's interests often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change of conditions. In extreme instances, as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client's legal position may be destroyed. Even when the client's interests are not affected in substance, however, unreasonable delay can cause a client needless anxiety and undermine confidence in the lawyer's trustworthiness. A lawyer's duty to act with reasonable promptness, however, does not preclude the lawyer from agreeing to a reasonable request for a postponement that will not prejudice the lawyer's client.

[4] Unless the relationship is terminated as provided in Rule 1.16, a lawyer should carry through to conclusion all matters undertaken for a client. If a lawyer's employment is limited to a specific matter, the relationship terminates when the matter has been resolved. If a lawyer has served a client over a substantial period in a variety of matters, the client sometimes may assume that the lawyer will continue to serve on a continuing basis unless the lawyer gives notice of withdrawal. Doubt about whether a client-lawyer relationship still exists should be clarified by the lawyer, preferably in writing, so that the client will not mistakenly suppose the lawyer is looking after the client's affairs when the lawyer has ceased to do so. For example, if a lawyer has handled a judicial or administrative proceeding that produced a result adverse to the client and the lawyer and the client have not agreed that the lawyer will handle the matter on appeal, the lawyer must consult with the client about the possibility of appeal before relinquishing responsibility for the matter. See Rule 1.4(a)(2). Whether the lawyer is obligated to prosecute the appeal for the client depends on the scope of the representation the lawyer has agreed to provide to the client. See Rule 1.2.

[5] To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner's death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer's death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action. Cf . 27 N.C.A.C. 1B, .0122 (providing for court appointment of a lawyer to inventory files and take other protective action to protect the interests of the clients of a lawyer who has disappeared or is deceased or disabled).

Distinguishing Professional Negligence

[6] Conduct that may constitute professional malpractice does not necessarily constitute a violation of the ethical duty to represent a client diligently. Generally speaking, a single instance of unaggravated negligence does not warrant discipline. For example, missing a statute of limitations may form the basis for a claim of professional malpractice. However, where the failure to file the complaint in a timely manner is due to inadvertence or a simple mistake such as mislaying the papers or miscalculating the date upon which the statute of limitations will run, absent some other aggravating factor, such an incident will not generally constitute a violation of this rule.

[7] Conduct warranting the imposition of professional discipline under the rule is characterized by the element of intent manifested when a lawyer knowingly or recklessly disregards his or her obligations. Breach of the duty of diligence sufficient to warrant professional discipline occurs when a lawyer consistently fails to carry out the obligations that the lawyer has assumed for his or her clients. A pattern of delay, procrastination, carelessness, and forgetfulness regarding client matters indicates a knowing or reckless disregard for the lawyer's professional duties. For example, a lawyer who habitually misses filing deadlines and court dates is not taking his or her professional responsibilities seriously. A pattern of negligent conduct is not excused by a burdensome case load or inadequate office procedures.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; September 28, 2017

Ethics Opinion Notes

RPC 48. Opinion outlines professional responsibilities of lawyers involved in a law firm dissolution.

99 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that whether the lawyer for a residential real estate closing must obtain the cancellation of record of a prior deed of trust depends upon the agreement of the parties.

2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion analyzes the responsibilities of the partners and supervisory lawyers in a firm when another firm lawyer has a mental impairment.

2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules a lawyer must advise a civil litigation client about the legal ramifications of the client’s postings on social media as necessary to represent the client competently. The lawyer may advise the client to remove postings on social media if the removal is done in compliance with the rules and law on preservation and spoliation of evidence.

2021 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion discusses a lawyer’s professional responsibility to safeguard entrusted funds by identifying and avoiding purported transactions involving counterfeit checks.

2021 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion addresses a law firm’s ethical responsibilities as to a departing lawyer’s email account.

2022 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a privately retained lawyer may provide limited representation to a criminal defendant who has been appointed counsel if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances.

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