ER 1.3 Diligence

The Standard

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

The Limitation

A lawyer is not bound to press for every advantage. A lawyer may have authority to exercise professional discretion in determining the means by which a matter should be pursued, ER 1.2, and should not use offensive or disrespectful tactics in carrying out the representation. In fact, a lawyer should advise the client that the lawyer plans to treat all others with civility and courtesy, including opposing counsel, the court and third parties, and that this approach should not be equated with weakness.


ER 1.3 requires zealous representation, right?

No. In Arizona, 2003 amendments removed the requirement that lawyer “act with zeal” in client representation, in conjunction with changes to the Preamble that removed references to “zeal.” Acting with zeal may not be unethical, but it must be tempered with civility and professionalism.

My workload is often very heavy. Will this mitigate procrastination or delay?

No. Lawyers must control their caseloads so that each matter may be handled competently. If your workload is so heavy that it is impacting your representation, you must take steps to address it, which may include withdrawing in an appropriate manner, protecting client interests, as well as declining new matters. Ariz. Ethics Op. 90-10 and 86-04.

What are common ER 1.3 pitfalls I should guard against?

Most commonly, attorneys are disciplined for dilatory handling of client matters, such as delays  in preparing pleadings that need client input or approval, or missing deadlines. Often an ER 1.3 violation accompanies another violation, like the failure to promptly notify clients of receipt of funds on their behalf or remit those funds to clients (see also ER 1.15).

May I agree to opposing counsel’s reasonable request for postponement if it does not prejudice my client?

Unreasonable delay often causes needless anxiety for clients and must be avoided. But lawyers should agree to reasonable requests for extensions of time or for wavier of procedural formalities, in consultation with the client, when the substantive interests of the client will not be adversely impacted.

How do I know if I still represent the client?

Generally speaking, the client-lawyer relationship terminates when the agreed-upon scope of the representation has been completed and/or the matter has been resolved. But doubt about an ongoing relationship should be clarified by the lawyer, in writing, particularly when there may be a question of appeal. In many practice areas, a disengagement letter is a best practice. Conflicts-checking systems should be updated promptly to reflect whether a client is prospective, current, or former.

Does ER 1.3 require that I have a succession plan to prevent neglect of client matters in the event of my disability or death?

While a lawyer’s duty to have a contingency plan is part of Model Rule 1.3 commentary, in Arizona it is actually required by Arizona Supreme Court Rule 41(b)(9).

I’ve accepted a position elsewhere and am leaving several clients behind. What should I do about those cases as I transition?

As you depart, both you and the firm are responsible for the uninterrupted diligent and competent representation of the client’s pending legal matters. Thus, you should make sure you leave behind adequate information regarding status, including any upcoming deadlines, as well as usable work product you generated for the client. Ariz. Ethics Op. 10-02.