Does the Client’s Matter Fit Within Your Area of Practice?

All lawyers have a duty of competence to their clients. The Code of Conduct expresses this duty in section 3.1 and defines a competent lawyer in section 3.1-1 as one who meets the following criteria:

“Competent lawyer” means a lawyer who has and applies relevant knowledge, skills and attributes in a manner appropriate to each matter undertaken on behalf of a client and the nature and terms of the lawyer’s engagement, including:

(a) knowing general legal principles and procedures and the substantive law and procedure for the areas of law in which the lawyer practises;
(b) investigating facts, identifying issues, ascertaining client objectives, considering possible options and developing and advising the client on appropriate courses of action;
(c) implementing as each matter requires, the chosen course of action through the application of appropriate skills, including:

(i) legal research;
(ii) analysis;
(iii) application of the law to the relevant facts;
(iv) writing and drafting;
(v) negotiation;
(vi) alternative dispute resolution; (vii) advocacy; and (viii) problem solving;

(d) communicating at all relevant stages of a matter in a timely and effective manner;
(e) performing all functions conscientiously, diligently and in a timely and cost-effective manner;
(f) applying intellectual capacity, judgment and deliberation to all functions;
(g) complying in letter and spirit with all rules pertaining to the appropriate professional conduct of lawyers;
(h) recognizing limitations in one’s ability to handle a matter or some aspect of it and taking steps accordingly to ensure the client is appropriately served;

(i) managing one’s practice effectively;

(j) pursuing appropriate professional development to maintain and enhance legal knowledge and skills; and
(k) otherwise adapting to changing professional requirements, standards, techniques and practices.

As a result, each lawyer has the responsibility of assessing whether they have sufficient knowledge of the legal issues, principles, and procedures to take on a client’s matter. To practice competently, you must recognize any limitations of your ability to handle a client’s file.

If you have any reservations as to your ability to handle a file when undergoing the client screening process, you should not enter into a relationship with the client. If you find yourself working on a matter in which you no longer feel comfortable handling, you should be honest with the client. In some circumstances you may be able to become competent by seeking assistance from a colleague, but in others you may have to recommend that the client find different representation. If you must withdraw, bear in mind that the principle underlying your ethical obligations respecting withdrawal is fairness to your client: you must not withdraw from representation except for good cause and on reasonable notice to your client. Review Module 10 – Withdrawal of Service for more information.