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No longer will Georgia lawyers have to flip through page after page of hard-to-research lawyer disciplinary rules. Chief Justice Robert Benham announced Friday at the State Bar of Georgia’s annual meeting in Savannah that the Supreme Court of Georgia approved, with minor changes, the proposed Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. Based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the new Bar Rule 4-102 governs lawyer conduct and spells out discipline for violations. The biggest impact of the new rules will be in education, says state bar Executive Director Clifton A. Brashier Jr. The state bar and local bars are expected to offer courses on the new rules, enabling lawyers to become familiar with them before they take effect Jan. 1. “It’s going to have a big impact on bringing all the lawyers up to speed on the new rules. But in application, in the end, I strongly suspect that the same kinds of conduct will be sanctioned under the old and new rules,” says Brashier. Often referred to as lawyer discipline rules, the standards Georgia lawyers lived by for decades were based on the Code of Professional Responsibility, which was adopted by the American Bar Association in 1969, according to William P. Smith III, general counsel for the Georgia bar. “The world has changed since 1969,” says Smith. For example, the new rules address lawyer communication with clients who, because of disabilities, have difficulty communicating. Advances in medicine and an aging population have made this a modern issue not addressed by the old rules, says Smith. REFLECTS CHANGES IN SOCIETY “I think [the changes are] more reflective in the changes that our society has gone through, rather than an attempt to change the direction of a prior rule,” says Smith. “The beautiful thing about the law is it is a living, breathing creature. It grows and develops as society changes and as the world around us changes. The same forces apply to a disciplinary document. It needs to live and breathe. This has given it an opportunity to do so.” Linda A. Klein, former state bar president, appointed the committee that came up with the proposed changes during her presidency in 1998. The bar’s board of governors unanimously approved the committee’s proposed changes last spring and submitted the proposal to the state Supreme Court. Klein says the section needed revision because it had become a patchwork of rules stitched together over the years. “I felt when lawyers needed to do research, the rules were just hard to use. They had no rhyme or reason, except the order in which they were adopted,” Klein says. Now, they’re based on the ABA rules, which will allow lawyers to broaden their research to the 40 other jurisdictions that have adopted the model rules. “It was important that we go to the model rules because all of the precedent that has developed is based on the model rules,” says George E. Mundy of Cedartown, Ga., the new president of the state bar. Klein points out, however, that the new rules are still Georgia rules, not the ABA model rules. “By and large, Georgia lawyers won’t notice much of a difference,” says Klein. But the Georgia rules are better organized, she emphasizes. “They have a table of contents. Alleluia!” Klein says. ‘MORE UNDERSTANDABLE’ DeKalb County State Court Judge Edward E. Carriere Jr. co-chaired the committee charged with amending the rules. Carriere calls the new rules “infinitely more understandable, much easier for attorneys to locate answers to questions. The rules reach into areas that had no guidance or meaningful guidance before, such as clients who are under a disability. … These rules now provide some guidance on assisting those clients.” Carriere says the rules also clarify conflicts of interest and deal with how a lawyer exits a practice if it is sold. “The rules today are focused to be user-friendly, to protect the public in an understandable way, and to provide guidance and instruction to lawyers in a useable way,” Carriere says.

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