How is legal competence defined?

It may seem odd to you to consider the question of whether or not an attorney may be competent. After all, such professionals work and study for years before being granted the right to practice law, and the specialized nature of their training almost automatically assigns them with a certain degree of intelligence. Yet competence (at least when used in reference to attorneys), typically refers more to their practices rather than their intelligence. You may indeed find that as you work with an attorney, some of his or her methods may indeed call his or her competence info question. 

In setting the standard for legal competence, the American Bar Association states in its Model Rules of Professional Conduct that competent representation requires the following elements: 

  • Legal knowledge
  • Skill
  • Thoroughness
  • Preparation

The combined byproduct of these elements should be representation that meets the need of supporting your best interests. 

Legal knowledge may be the one area where you would expect an attorney never to falter. However, the complexities of federal and state codes make it almost impossible for one to have a comprehensive familiarity with them. It is for this reason that you typically see attorneys specialize in certain areas. Yet even if your case is outside of an attorney's area of expertise, he or she is expected to understand the specific laws that it deals with. 

Questions regarding an attorney's skill, thoroughness and preparation are often easy to pinpoint during the course of your representation. A lack of the aforementioned elements will almost certainly manifest themselves (often to your detriment). These manifestations may serve as evidence to be cited if you choose to initiate a legal malpractice lawsuit based off incompetent representation. 

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