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Clients Cannot Waive an Attorney’s Competence


Although the California State Bar Act does not specifically state that attorneys must act “competently,” California Business and Professions Code Section 6068 enumerates the obligations of California attorneys. Taken together, these obligations paint a portrait of responsible representation of clients by California lawyers.

When admitted to practice law in California, lawyers take an oath in which they swear to discharge the duties of an attorney at law to the best of their knowledge and ability.

Lawyers who fail to comply with the various legal and ethical requirements imposed on practitioners in California may be disciplined (or disbarred) by the Bar and may also incur malpractice liability. However, determining whether an attorney’s conduct was an actionable violation of duty involves a fact-specific analysis of all the facts and circumstances of the relevant situation and the lawyer’s actions (or failure to act).

Moreover, the lawyer’s duty to provide proper representation includes a mental component: California lawyers may not allow their personal beliefs–including without limitation political, moral, and/or religious beliefs–to adversely impact either: (a) the attorney’s ability to provide unbiased advice, or (b) the client’s legal rights and interests. Where an attorney cannot provide advice without bias from his or her personal beliefs, the attorney should refuse representation, or withdraw (if permitted by law).


Generally, the lawyer’s obligation to represent clients competently is non-waivable, which means that the lawyer cannot require the client to enter into a retainer agreement in which the client agrees to waive his or her rights to competent representation. This is true even where the fee arrangement is “pro bono” and no attorney fees are charged to the client. Lawyers who represent clients free of charge–either privately or as public defenders–owe clients the same duty of competent representation as that owed to fee-paying clients.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including 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. Malpractice (professional negligence) claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who represented you, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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