The Attorney’s Duty to Acquire Learning and Skill
HOW MUCH LEARNING AND SKILL MUST A LAWYER POSSESS?
A lawyer must always possess at least minimum competence to handle a client’s matters or issues. No lawyer should take on a case that he or she is incompetent to represent, either in terms of education or in terms of skills. However, clients should be aware that victory is not the proper measure of an attorney’s competence. Rather, the question is whether the lawyer possessed at least the minimum necessary levels of knowledge and skill to provide the client with competent representation at the time(s) when such representation was appropriate and/or required.
An attorney need not memorize all relevant law, or even possess all of the required knowledge to pursue a matter before (s)he agrees to represent a client. However, the lawyer does need to acquire at least “sufficient” levels of learning and skill before rendering legal services on the client’s behalf.
A lawyer may acquire the required learning and skill through educational programs, self-study, MCLE, association with experienced counsel, or through any reasonable means designed to give the lawyer the competence required to represent the client in the relevant matter. Attorneys may even accept or agree to represent a client knowing the lawyer still needs to acquire certain knowledge or skills, as long as the attorney can achieve competence through reasonable preparation.
CAN A LAWYER BE COMPETENT TO TAKE ON A CASE IN A NEW OR UNUSUAL FIELD OF LAW?
Although some lawyers specialize, and many opt to limit their practice areas (mostly for time and competence purposes), an attorney may elect to take on clients and issues that deal with areas in which the lawyer doesn’t normally practice. As long as the attorney can acquire sufficient competence to handle the relevant issues, this is absolutely permitted. However, lawyers should be careful to consider both the competence issues and the ethical issues involved before taking on clients in new practice areas.
CAN A LAWYER SIMPLY ARRANGE FOR ANOTHER LAWYER TO DO THE WORK ON HIS OR HER BEHALF?
Competent representation of clients includes the ability to evaluate the quality of work performed on the client’s behalf. For this reason, a lawyer cannot simply “purchase” work product from other attorneys. However, if an attorney has the capacity to evaluate the work product of other lawyers working on the client’s issues, then the lawyer can associate or contract for work by other lawyers.
Lawyers have significant latitude and discretion when it comes to choosing which clients and legal matters to represent. A lawyer may competently represent clients on any issue where the lawyer has (or can acquire) the requisite level of skill and knowledge in a timely manner.
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 like this one (or any other online or printed 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.