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5 Things to Do When a Lawyer Realizes He's Out of His Depth

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

When a current or potential client needs legal advice, but not in your area of expertise, who you gonna call?

Chances are, you'll probably want to direct the client to a more experienced attorney. After all, ethics rules require an attorney to be competent, with the "legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."

But in some cases, you may feel up to a challenge. How can you make sure you're sufficiently knowledgeable about an unfamiliar subject, and not in over your head?

Here are five strategies to consider:

  1. Phone a friend. Your competent lawyer colleagues are a good place to start, but you have more "friends" than that. We're talking friendly law librarians and even your on-call Westlaw reference attorney, who can direct you to the right resources.

  2. Take advantage of government bureaucrats. It may behoove you to go straight to the source of government rules and regulations. Agency bureaucrats are often quite helpful in explaining laws, regulations, and especially procedures.

  3. Associate with a competent attorney. Some established firms gladly provide guidance about procedures and legal strategies if you formally associate with their competent lawyers. Again, keep ethics rules in mind, especially when it comes to splitting fees.

  4. Find a mentor. An informal mentoring relationship with another lawyer may also be sufficient, depending on how much guidance you need to be reasonably competent. This is where years of networking can pay off.

  5. Search FindLaw. Our website's 3 million pages of legal cases, codes, and consumer-friendly breakdowns of common legal issues are a great resource. Also check out our Legal Services Market Center for expert witnesses, consultants, and other practice support professionals.

Bottom line, it's your call if you choose to take on a client in an unfamiliar area of law. The payoff could be huge in terms of gaining knowledge and experience. But remember, if your competence as a lawyer comes into question, it could cost you your law license.

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