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What do the rules of professional conduct have to say about competence? – II

Published on Jun 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm in Legal Malpractice.

Back in May, our blog spent some time discussing how the very first decree in the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct dictates that all attorneys must provide clients with competent representation, meaning services demonstrating a reasonably necessary degree of “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation.”

We also discussed how even though this may seem simple enough, it’s a far more complex matter, with multiple factors needing to be accounted for when considering an individual attorney’s legal knowledge and skill. We’ll continue this important discussion in today’s post.

Legal knowledge and skill: Additional considerations

Last time, we established that a newly admitted attorney can be just as competent as a colleague with decades of experience in handling a host of client matters so long as they undertake the necessary study and preparation.

This naturally raises the question, however, as to what can and should be done in emergencies where the attorney doesn’t have the knowledge or skill normally required, and association/consultation with another attorney is not possible.

According to the rules, the attorney may provide assistance or advice to the affected party, but must also take steps to ensure his or her representation addresses only that which is reasonably necessary under the circumstances. That’s because ill-prepared or ill-considered actions can jeopardize the interests of the client.

Another point that must be considered in this area is that attorneys are indeed free to take on clients when the requisite degree of competence can be secured via reasonable preparation.

Thoroughness and preparation

As to whether the attorney has devoted the degree of thoroughness and preparation required to provide competent representation, the inquiry turns on whether he or she has done the following:

  • Conducted an inquiry into and analysis of all legal and factual components
  • Used processes and procedures commonly utilized by competent colleagues

It’s important to note that the degree of the thoroughness and preparation required depends upon the scope of the representation or the stakes involved. For example, multifaceted transactions and major litigation would necessitate far more thoroughness and preparation.

Maintaining competence    

In order to maintain the necessary legal knowledge and skill, the commentary to the rule states that attorneys should ensure they remain cognizant of any changes to the law and its practice, and continue to study as necessary. To that end, they also highlight the need to satisfy continuing legal education requirements.

Here’s hoping the foregoing discussion has proven helpful.

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about the possibility pursuing a legal malpractice claim if you have suffered financial harm that you believe can be attributed to the negligent actions of your attorney.

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