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As an example, The Rules of Professional Conduct for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania state:

1.4 Communication

(a) A lawyer shall:

...

(4) A lawyer should promptly respond to or acknowledge client communications.

"prompt" and "promptly" are used quite liberally in those above rules – dozens of times.

And yet there is no definition, explanation, or even rough description of what promptness might mean concretely or in detail.

Are there any more concrete, specific, and explicit standards, whether formal or informal?

Are there even any definite examples?

I'd imagine, absent some narrow, and extreme, circumstances, a legal professional responding within five (5) minutes of a client's communication would be definitely prompt.

But what's definitely not prompt? And does that depend on the form of communication? Are legal professionals less obligated to respond, let alone promptly to emails versus phone calls? Is there a hierarchy of promptness expected?

Are there any practical standards, e.g. with regard to malpractice?

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Absent a definition in the document, courts apply common English definitions.

Looking at several dictionaries, prompt means an act that is done quickly, without delay, readily or immediately. None of these provides a definitive time frame so prompt would need to be interpreted in the context of the circumstances by what a reasonable person would expect.

For example, for a request like "May I meet you at 4pm today?", prompt would mean any time before about 3pm.

However, for "Please review this 586-page contract and its 13 attachments and give me a detailed summary", prompt means before August.

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  • Are there any "reasonable people" still? Or would the standard be 'what a person would reasonably expect'? I'm not sure it is reasonable to expect legal professionals to respond promptly. If emailed a request like your example "May I meet you at 4pm today?", it doesn't in fact seem reasonable to expect a 'prompt' reply, e.g. the same day. Mar 22, 2021 at 15:06
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    @KennyEvitt there never has been a “reasonable person”. The reasonable person has always been a legal fiction, like the “prudent businessperson” or the “competent tradesperson”. They don’t represent real people, they represent objective standards.
    – Dale M
    Mar 22, 2021 at 21:18
  • Sure – that's one of the 'spherical cows' of the law. But it's not obvious how it could represent an "objective standard" given that real people must interpret it. Mar 23, 2021 at 15:05
  • @KennyEvitt precedent, there are authorities judgements that tell us (lawyers, judges, everyone else) what is reasonable in many, many circumstances.
    – Dale M
    Mar 23, 2021 at 20:32
  • Citing precedent as an "objective" standard is strange – often times there are conflicting precedents for the same issue. Are you aware of any precedents relevant to this question? I wouldn't expect any pertaining to a 'bright line' about what constitutes 'prompt', but maybe there are some about what is not prompt. Mar 24, 2021 at 12:17

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