Much like medicine, the practice of law requires both extensive education and practical experience. In addition to an undergraduate degree, lawyers and medical professionals typically have to have a graduate degree, as well as specialized training in a particular field within the industry.
Just like a physician will decide whether they want to become a dermatologist, a family practitioner or a gastroenterologist, so, too, do attorneys typically specialize their legal practice. Just like lawyers, attorneys can wind up financially and legally responsible if they commit legal malpractice, such as taking on a case without the competence to manage it properly.
What does an attorney do if they aren’t an expert in an area of law?
It is common for lawyers to have multiple areas in which they have experience and expertise. However, no lawyer should claim to be an expert in every area of the law. When clients request services that fall outside the area of expertise or experience of a given attorney, the lawyer has an obligation to the client to act in their best interest.
Sometimes, the best interests of a prospective client include referring them on to a different lawyer who has experience in that particular area of law. Other times, retaining the services of an outside attorney with that critical expertise can help an attorney retain those clients while still providing them with the best possible level of support.
If your attorney misrepresented themselves as someone familiar with or experienced in an area of law that they later showed a lack of competence in, you could have grounds for a legal malpractice claim against your lawyer.
Lack of competence can mean several different things
In general, lawyers tend to have well-developed communication skills, which can make them seem better suited to represent you that they may actually be. Your attorney should do everything in their power to accurately convey their abilities and areas of skill to you. If they do not have experience in an area of law, they have an obligation to inform you of that lack of experience and to either educate themselves or get the help they need to successfully represent you in this case.
If they don’t do so, their lack of competence could impact your legal case. Lack of competence can take several different forms. It often involves a lack of familiarity with the statutes that impact a specific claim or legal situation. You don’t want an attorney who has to repeatedly reference notes in order to build an argument about the state statutes and codes that impact your case.
Lack of competence could also look like inadequate familiarity with legal precedent, which is often as important as the code itself. Precedent involves how state courts have specifically interpreted and applied the code in previous cases similar to your current situation. Simply knowing the law won’t be sufficient if legal cases in the state have expanded or altered the way that judges apply the law to certain situations.
How do you demonstrate a lack of competence in a legal malpractice case?
If you believe that your attorney failed to provide you with a standard of representation that another lawyer could have offered, you may have grounds for a legal malpractice claim.
If you can show that your attorney failed to cite relevant laws, if they displayed an obvious lack of familiarity with precedent or otherwise did not display competence in the area of law that they attempted to practice, you can likely hold them accountable in court through a malpractice claim.