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What Happens to An Attorney Who Abandons His Client's Legal Matter?

Burdine & Brown Jan. 23, 2020

In the case of Denise Hemmann, attorney in Jackson, Georgia, things did not go well. She has been sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Georgia four previous times for abandonment, failure to properly withdraw from representation and failure to communicate with certain clients about her withdrawal. All this was reported in the Fulton County Daily Report, Friday, November 1, 2019.

Attorney Hemmann sought to receive public sanctions for her behavior, hoping that would be sufficient punishment. The Supreme Court said that was not enough of a punishment. The Court acknowledged that this being her 5th violation, disbarment was appropriate.

However, they also acknowledged that this would be the harshest of punishments. Instead the Court agreed to suspend Attorney Hemmann from practice for a short period of time (unspecified) “to make it clear to her and other members of the Bar the importance of acting with diligence to ensure that the circumstances that lead to misconduct are addressed before additional misconduct can occur.” Opinion Daily Section of F.C.D.R. November 1, 2019

So what does this mean for the rest of us lawyers? It means that communication with our clients is vital to keeping a good name and keeping our license to practice law.

The most likely way a lawyer gets in trouble with the Bar is when his/her escrow account goes haywire or when a client makes a complaint to the State Bar of foul lawyer conduct.

In the case of Attorney Hemmann, she went afoul with the Rules of Professional Conduct a number of times before the Bar dropped the hammer on her. She seemingly was reprimanded four previous times by the Bar.

If you seek to file a complaint against your lawyer, your complaint will be sent by the Bar to your lawyer so the lawyer may respond. Most of the time, after the lawyer responds and explains, the complaint will be dropped. Why is this so? It is usually because the lawyer gives a decent/adequate reason for his behavior/legal conduct. However, that was clearly not the case with Attorney Hemmann. When the lawyer fails to respond to the State Bar's request for information that is the red flag for the Bar to pursue the matter further.

No lawyer wants to get a letter from the State Bar with a Notice of Complaint/Rule violation inside. But when that happens, the lawyer needs to respond. There is probably a lot more misconduct out there that doesn't get reported to the State Bar. Clients fire their lawyers and hire others all the time.

Legal malpractice insurance companies ask lawyers if they have ever sued their clients for fees. This is an amazing act of stupidity on the lawyer's part. If you and your lawyer cannot get along, agree to disagree and go your separate ways. The lawyer then files a Notice of Withdrawal with the Court system, sends a copy to the client and all other interested parties but should never sue his client for fees. To do so will surely find the client filing a Bar Complaint! Take you loss and move on. Easier said than done but true nevertheless.