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How Much Professional Skill Does a Lawyer Need?

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Lawyers have a duty to maintain a reasonable level of learning and skill. By law, a lawyer must possess and apply a reasonable level of learning and skill, as necessary to handle the legal matters the lawyer undertakes.

The expected level of learning and skill includes:

1. The skill to determine the type or nature of legal issues presented by the client’s situation.

2. The ability to analyze the legal and factual aspects of the client’s problem(s) or issues.

3. The skill to handle the client’s legal issues competently and professionally.

A lawyer is not required to possess the knowledge and skill to handle every kind of legal matter. However, a lawyer is expected to represent only those clients and issues for which the lawyer either has or can obtain the required level of skill and understanding.

Even newly-admitted lawyers can be competent to represent clients. Lawyers do not have to possess specialized training or prior experience in a matter to handle the matter or issue competently under the law. However, all lawyers must possess the requisite level of professional skill to handle the matters they choose to undertake on a client’s behalf.

The most important skill an attorney possesses is the ability to evaluate a client’s legal issues and determine how those issues should be handled (or, to determine the range of possibilities, and advise the client well enough for the client to make a decision about which one(s) to pursue).

Practicing lawyers have an obligation to maintain the required level of learning and skill.

An attorney has an obligation to maintain his or her level of professional skill, which includes an obligation to engage in continuing legal education (also called “MCLE” or “Mandatory Continuing Legal Education”). The MCLE requirement exists to help ensure that lawyers keep their knowledge and skills current and up to date, and that lawyers remain aware of relevant changes in the law. MCLE also helps lawyers maintain awareness of important legal issues and rules governing the management of law firms and legal practices.

In addition to MCLE, lawyers have an independent obligation to keep informed about relevant changes in the law and the practice of law.

MCLE requirements address certain legal issues, but lawyers may practice in a variety of areas, and not all areas are included in mandatory MCLE requirements. In addition to fulfilling the state’s requirements for MCLE, lawyers have a duty to engage in self-study and to keep themselves aware of the laws and regulations applicable to the lawyer’s specific practice areas. While lawyers are not required to know everything about a given area of the law (even for areas in which the lawyer practices), lawyers do have a responsibility to keep themselves sufficiently well-informed to address client issues with reasonable competence.




Disclaimer: Legal claims against lawyers (and non-lawyer defendants) 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.  THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. Your rights and experiences may vary.

Never use an article (or any online source) to evaluate your legal claims. Always 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.

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