One of the traditional hallmarks of the American legal profession has been its virtual freedom from regulation. If there is any theme evident in recent developments in the legal ethics field, it is that this freedom is under increasing attack from clients, courts, the bar, and the legislature. The year 1992 was no exception, with a number of challenges made to the authority of individual lawyers and the profession itself. The Supreme Court of Georgia rejected one lawyer's challenge to mandatory court appointments and another's freedom to contract with a client for unlimited authority to settle cases.
The supreme court and court of appeals heard a disturbingly large number of "ineffective assistance of counsel" and malpractice claims. Although the couris rejected most claims, they remanded several "ineffective assistance" claims even in the face of seemingly rigid rules requiring that parties raise such claims at the first possible instance. In one of the more unusual and disturbing cases discussed here, the court of appeals held that charging excessive fees may constitute legal malpractice.
The courts and legislature both have stepped in to regulate important aspects of lawyering. The supreme court now requires that lawyers participate in Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts ("IOLTA") and assesses them annually to fund the Clients' Security Fund.' The court may soon adopt new rules suggesting specific pro bono obligations and standards holding lawyers responsible for actions by their peers.' Furthermore, the legislature just passed a bill regulating legal advertising.' All of these are examples of increasing control over lawyers, both individually and collectively.
It is impossible to review all of these developments here. This Article will cover only the Supreme Court of Georgia Formal Advisory Opinions and Georgia court cases decided between June 1, 1991, and May 31, 1992 that significantly affect Georgia lawyers and their profession.
Roy M. Sobelson, Legal Ethics, 44 Mercer L. Rev. 281 (1992).