Lawyers have to go through intensive graduate schooling and also pass the daunting bar exam in order to legally practice law in California. Those who hire attorneys expect that the combination of education and experience the attorney has accumulated over their academic and professional career will help them successfully argue a case, whether it is a civil case, a business contract dispute or a criminal defense.
Much like medical professionals, who may specialize in one area of the human body, attorneys often specialize in one area of legal practice. There are also general practice attorneys who do a little bit of everything. The more unique and complex your case, the more important experience in that particular area of law becomes. You may feel comfortable going to a general practitioner when you have a cold, but if you need to have brain surgery, you want to see a neurosurgeon.
The same is true for legal situations. While some generic issues only require a basic understanding of the law, more complex issues require more thorough experience and knowledge of the area of law. Unfortunately, not all attorneys restrict their client intake only to areas in which they are experts. In other words, lawyers can and do take on cases that they don’t have enough experience in or knowledge to successfully argue on behalf of their clients.
An attorney shouldn’t use your case as an educational experience
Your financial solvency, business success or even freedom may depend on the skill of the attorney representing you in court. The more complex and nuanced the case and area of law, the more your attorney’s knowledge of precedent and legal code will matter.
While it is certainly true that attorneys can expand their areas of expertise over time, they should not take on client cases with the sole intention of using them as learning experiences. Instead, they should take on a case with the intention of representing you to the best of their ability and to help you secure a positive outcome.
It is the obligation of an attorney to put the needs of their clients before their own. When your attorney fails to do that, not only do you have to pay them a significant amount of money for mediocre representation and an unpleasant outcome, but you will also have to deal with the personal and legal ramifications of failure in court.
Warning signs that an attorney can’t adequately represent you
It can be hard to tell when an attorney is in over their head on a case, as attorneys are skilled speakers and are often very persuasive. However, there are some key warning signs that your attorney has taken a case that they may not be able to manage.
A lack of familiarity with the state laws that apply in the situation is a major warning sign. If your lawyer doesn’t already know specific precedent in similar situations, which is how the courts handle cases similar to your own without research, that could mean they don’t have the knowledge and experience to successfully represent you.
These issues aren’t always obvious at the time that you work with your attorney, but they may seem more blatant in retrospect. If you find that, on reflection, it seems like your attorney didn’t really understand contract law, environmental defense or the complexities of custody battles in same-sex marriages, you may be able to hold your attorney accountable for their lack of disclosure and inadequate representation.
Legal malpractice involves not just allegations of inappropriate actions but also issues stemming from a lack of knowledge or experience. If an attorney failed to do what a reasonable and competent attorney would do in the same circumstances, you may be able to hold them accountable through legal malpractice claims.