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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.

Rhode Island Legal Ethics

1.4   Rule 1.4 Communication

1.4:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 1.4
Background References: ABA Model Rule 1.4, Other Jurisdictions

1.4:101      Model Rule Comparison

Effective July, 1998, RI Rule 1.4 was revised by adding a new Paragraph (a) to provide that when a lawyer has not regularly represented a client and has reason to believe that the client does not fully understand the nature of the attorney-client relationship, the lawyer shall take steps to inform the client of the nature of that relationship before the representation is undertaken. Appendix 2, referred to in the Rule, includes a copy of the Statement of Client's Rights and Responsibilities, which, if given to a client, will satisfy the requirements of the Rule. A statement that will satisfy the Rule has been printed by and will be available through the Rhode Island Bar Association. The requirements of the Rule may also be satisfied in any other manner that will be reasonably equivalent to the Statement, including incorporating the required notices in the engagement letter.

1.4:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 1.4 and other jurisdictions.

1.4:200   Duty to Communicate with Client

Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 1.4(a)
Background References: ABA Model Rule 1.4(a), Other Jurisdictions
Commentary: ABA/BNA 31.501, ALI-LGL 20, Wolfram 4.5, 4.6

Attorney who forged client's signatures on INS documents in immigration matter, without client's knowledge or approval, violated RI Rules 1.4 and 8.4(c), warranting public censure. In re Devane, 656 A.2d 617 (R.I. 1995).

When requiring a client to obtain additional, impartial advice about continued representation may be the only means of ensuring that a client will be able to make an informed decision, an attorney may condition continued representation on client obtaining advice from independent counsel. RI Eth. Op. 90-37 (1990).

Attorney who is unsure whether third party has been paid in full may disburse funds to client so long as the attorney properly informed the client regarding possible problems which may arise as a consequence of an unresolved issue with payments. RI Eth. Op. 92-47 (1992). Attorney's failure to finalize client's divorce for two years following trial violated Rule 1.4, which requires the exercise of due diligence in communicating with clients. In the Matter of A. Cozzolino, 767 A.2d 71 (R.I. 2001). An attorney's transmittal of untruthful information to a client does not keep that client reasonably informed about the status of representation and is a violation of Rule 1.4(a), which imposes upon an attorney a duty to keep his client informed regarding a case and settlement payments that he may have received. In the Matter of A. Indeglia, 765 A.2d 444 (R.I. 2001).

Where a client retained other counsel to pursue a legal malpractice action against predecessor counsel, the attorney-client relationship had been terminated and predecessor counsel had no ethical obligation under Rules1.3 or 1.4 to continue to advise the client regarding the previous matter. Predecessor counsel would also violate Rule 4.2 if he/she communicated with the client about the previous matter without the malpractice attorney's consent. RI Eth. Op. 2002-01.

When an attorney fails to exercise diligence by neglecting to pursue the legal matters of his clients, fails to keep his clients reasonably informed of the state of their legal matters, and fails to provide either an accounting or refund of unearned portions of fees to his clients when requested upon termination of his representation, he should be publicly censored. In re Foster, 826 A.2d 94 (R.I. 2003).

Settlement Offers - In General

In an opinion which clearly suggests that a violation of RI Rule 1.4 exists if an attorney fails to communicate settlement offers to his/her client, RI Eth. Op. 92-11 (1992) suggests that the opposing lawyer should consider filing a disciplinary complaint pursuant to RI Rule 8.3 if the lawyer has knowledge that the other attorney is violating RI Rule 1.4 by failing to communicate settlement offers to the client.

Settlement Offers and Malpractice Liability

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

Corporate Entity

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

1.4:300   Duty to Consult With Client

Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 1.4(b)
Background References: ABA Model Rule 1.4(b), Other Jurisdictions
Commentary: ABA/BNA 31.501, ALI-LGL 20, Wolfram 4.5

In RI Eth. Op. 94-70 (1994), Comments to RI Rule 1.4 mandating that the client should have sufficient information to participate intelligently in decisions concerning the objectives of the representation are quoted affirmatively and the attorney is directed to notify the client of a legal error made by the attorney who forwarded the matter to the inquiring attorney. RI Eth. Op. 96-10 (1996) states that a lawyer has an obligation to keep a client informed concerning matters undertaken on the client's behalf. The Opinion went on to state that a duty to communicate means that the lawyer must advise clients as to the status of their affairs. In RI Eth. Op. 96-15 (1996), it was opined that a lawyer has an obligation to keep a client informed concerning matters of the legal representation. RI Rule 1.4 (a) and (b) were cited.

In a factual context where an attorney was retained by an insurance company to represent its insured and the insured has asked the attorney for copies of letters that the attorney wrote to the insurance company's adjuster containing the attorney's mental impressions and legal analysis of liability, damage and settlement negotiations in the tort action, it was opined that the attorney has the obligation under RI Rule 1.4 to keep the attorney's client reasonably informed and to comply promptly with reasonable requests for information. RI Eth. Op. 98-10 (1998). A lawyer hired by an insurance company was held to represent the insured as his/her client.

Where, inter alia, an attorney failed to keep his client reasonably informed by failing to respond to client's repeated requests regarding the status of the case, to notify client of changed trial date, and to respond to a number of his client's requests for speedier action, the proper disciplinary measure was suspension until the attorney could prove to the court that he was capable of resuming the practice of law and attending to representing his clients. In re MacLean, 774 A.2d 888 (R.I. 2001).

An attorney's failure to exercise diligence by failing to provide his clients with documents, to communicate with them to resolve the matter, and to respond during disciplinary investigations, and when he had a history of receiving admonishments and reprimands, the proper disciplinary action was indefinite suspension. In re Cozzolino, 774 A.2d 891 (R.I. 2001).

Where an attorney misled her client to believe that she filed a civil action on her client's behalf and was attempting to resolve the case, failed to respond to her client's inquiries, and delayed the return of her client's file and fees, the attorney violated Rule 1.4(b), and the proper disciplinary action was public censure. In re Veiga, 783 A.2d 911 (R.I. 2001).

1.4:400   Duty to Inform the Client of Settlement Offers

Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 1.4
Background References: ABA Model Rule 1.4, Other Jurisdictions
Commentary: ABA/BNA 31.501, ALI-LGL 20, Wolfram 4.5

See Section 1.4:200, Duty to Communicate with Client, above.

An attorney violated RI Rule 1.4 (a) by failing to communicate with clients regarding reasonable requests for information. In re Rosen, 637 A.2d 1378 (R.I. 1994). An attorney was censured for failing to represent and communicate with a client. In re Watt, 701 A.2d 1011 (R.I. 1997). The imposition of discipline was warranted for an attorney's failure to keep the client informed of the status of her claim. In re Grochowski, 701 A.2d 1013 (R.I. 1997). Censure of an attorney was warranted based upon findings that the attorney failed to provide clients with timely information about their cases. In re Fishbein, 701 A.2d 1018 (R.I. 1997). (In the foregoing cases the discipline was imposed when violation of RI Rule 1.4 was combined with other violations.) An attorney who failed to inform his client that he had settled the case and had received settlement monies violated Rule 1.4(a), which requires that an attorney keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter. In the Matter of A. Indeglia, 765 A.2d 444 (R.I. 2001).