Like many law students, you put a lot of time and effort into educating yourself so you can receive your law degree, so you may feel you can handle anything. But what if you take a case only to find that you lack the skills or knowledge to handle it properly? You may fear that your client will accuse you of incompetence.
According to the California State Bar, an attorney must act with competence by having the correct mental, emotional and physical ability to reasonably do the job along with the right learning and skill. But just because you run into problems understanding legal questions does not make you incompetent. The state bar allows you to take certain actions that do not run afoul of competency standards.
Seek knowledge or consultation
In the event you do not have the necessary skills or knowledge to handle a particular case, you might still have time to acquire whatever skills or information you lack before you actually start your services. If you do so and then perform to proper standards, you should not have a problem.
In the event you still have problems with a case, the state also permits you to consult with another attorney that you believe to be competent concerning the legal matters you need to address. You may even consider entering into a professional association with another attorney to help you with the areas you are struggling with.
Refer to another attorney
If you look at the case and find that you are unlikely to learn what you need to know before engaging your services, you have the option to not take the case at all. Instead, you may refer your client to another attorney that you believe to have the right competency to take on the case.
Offer emergency assistance or advice
The state bar also acknowledges that you may be in a situation where you cannot seek assistance and may have to assist or advise a client even if you lack the required skills or knowledge. The state bar emphasizes that this assistance must be reasonably necessary given the situation.
Attorneys must not be reckless in their practice since so much can be at stake. But you should not worry about the state bar finding you incompetent if you have truly acted in the best interest of your client.