Alternative Forms of Attorney Competence
Generally, an attorney should only represent clients if he or she is competent in the relevant area. However, the law does allow attorneys to achieve competence by associating or consulting with other lawyers, as well as through education and MCLE.
One reason newly-licensed attorneys often decide to work with a firm, or in an office with other experienced lawyers, is to ensure they represent clients with proper competence. New associates are often supervised by more senior attorneys, who often function as mentors until the newer attorney acquires the competence necessary to represent clients on his or her own.
There is no mandatory “apprenticeship period” for licensed attorneys. Instead, attorneys are charged with evaluating their own ability to practice independently, and have an obligation not to do so until they are competent to represent clients without supervision.
CAN A LAWYER EVER REPRESENT CLIENTS IF HE OR SHE IS NOT COMPETENT IN THE RELEVANT AREA?
Surprisingly, the answer is actually “yes”–but only to the limited extent necessary to provide emergency assistance to a client or other person.
WHAT ARE A LAWYER’S OPTIONS WHEN THE CLIENT’S NEEDS EXCEED THE LAWYER’S COMPETENCE?
Otherwise, attorneys lacking sufficient learning and skill to provide competent representation have several options:
Acquire the requisite competence. Attorneys may always decide to expand their areas of competence, either through coursework, apprenticeships, or any other method designed to provide at least the minimum required level of knowledge and skill.
Reduce the scope of representation. If a client’s needs expand into areas where the attorney does not practice, or lacks competence, the attorney can reduce the scope of representation to encompass only the areas in which the attorney is qualified to provide service. Reductions in the scope of representation should be made to the client in writing whenever possible.
Associate with other lawyers. Attorneys who believe themselves incapable of rendering proper advice and services to a client on their own may associate with other attorneys in order to provide competent representation.
Refer to a specialist. Attorneys may refer clients and others to specialists, or to other attorneys, based on a reasonable belief in the other attorney’s competence.
Terminate or decline representation. Subject only to practice and ethical rules, attorneys may always decide to cease representing a client, and should decline or terminate representation when the attorney is not competent to represent the client properly. Rejections or terminations of representation should be documented in writing and sent to the client as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an article like this one to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel.
Legal claims against lawyers are a complicated topic. Articles like this touch only on basic issues. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, consult an experienced malpractice lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.