Chapter 7: Lawyers and Competence

You’d think that everyone who made it through three years of law school and passed the bar exam would be competent to defend your interests in court or a contractual dispute. Unfortunately, not all attorneys are competent. How can you tell if a prospective attorney is competent? What should be your minimum expectations of a lawyer?

Lawyers exist for a reason; if they didn’t have a standard of competence and expertise, we’d never consider hiring them to represent us in court. It’s great to be able to depend on the experience and expertise of a legal pro when inundated with court paperwork or hostile correspondence. It is a lawyer’s duty to provide competent representation – but it’s a client’s duty to screen for a competent, experienced lawyer.

Minimum Standards of Competency

There are several minimum standards of competence for an attorney. These include timeliness (the court system is notoriously draconian when it comes to deadlines), attention to detail, and knowledge of the rules of practice and procedure. It’s reasonable to expect your lawyer to remain in touch, as well – your lawyer should respond to your inquiries within a reasonable time frame and keep you apprised of major developments.

Experience Counts

Experience is also important to take into consideration when hiring an attorney. Ask a prospective attorney about their case experience. While everyone was a rookie at some point, you may think twice about putting your lawsuit in the hands of a lawyer who has no subject-expertise or who has never won a case. If you are retaining a law firm, ask about their practice areas. Some rookie attorneys are supported by partners with years of experience winning cases in a particular area. However, you get what you pay for – and subject-area experts can be pricey.

Subject Matter Expertise

Lawyers should be well-informed about the area in which you are considering filing your lawsuit. If the lawyer you speak to can’t say anything specific about strategy or case law in your practice area, think twice before signing on for representation. In addition, you may wish to ask your potential attorney if he or she has completed subject-specific certifications or continuing education courses in your practice area.

When interviewing a potential attorney, remember that you are under no obligation to put your case in their hands. If your gut instinct is telling you this attorney is too inexperienced or may be incompetent, it’s safer to move on to an attorney you can trust.

Introduction: How to Hire a Lawyer
Chapter 1: Which Lawyer is Right for the Job?
Chapter 2: Attorney Fees
Chapter 3: Attorney Fee Agreements and Bills
Chapter 4: Low and No-Cost Options for Legal Representation
Chapter 5: The Attorney-Client Relationship
Chapter 6: Lawyers and Communication
Chapter 7: Lawyers and Competence
Chapter 8: Lawyers and Confidentiality
Chapter 9: Lawyers and Conflicts of Interest
Chapter 10: Mad at Your Lawyer?
Chapter 11: Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Attorney