I Have Competence

October 21, 2022

Reading time: 2 minutes

Remember when Julie Andrews sang and danced her way from the Abbey to the Von Trapp family home?  With her determination growing, she merrily sang:

So let them bring on all their problems
I’ll do better than my best
I have confidence
They’ll put me to the test
But I’ll make them see
I have confidence in me

While we should all approach our practice with such enthusiasm, the legal profession requires more than just confidence in ourselves.  Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct – along with most jurisdictions’ Trial and Local Rules – requires that an attorney be competent.  Specifically, “[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.  Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  In other words, a lawyer should already possess the legal knowledge and experience to accept representation in that new case. 

Consider the following checklist with respect when taking a case outside your typical area of practice:

  • Is there someone in my firm with the knowledge and expertise in this area that will appear in this case with me?
  • Does my current caseload allow me the time to be diligent in managing all the deadlines of which I may be unfamiliar?
  • Will this case require extensive research because of my unfamiliarity with the practice area for which I cannot bill the client?
  • Is my gut telling me I shouldn’t take it?

While tempting to take on that new matter outside your typical caseload, it may be best in the long run to simply refer the matter.  Practically speaking, it could save a grievance or malpractice complaint, and it will give you more time to focus on those cases in which you are competent – and confident – to handle. 


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