Last time, we briefly looked at the duty of competence which attorneys owe to their clients, which obligates attorneys to avoid neglecting or grossly mishandling a client’s case. As we noted last time, there are a variety of ways the duty of competence can be violated. It doesn’t necessarily mean that attorneys have to have all the answers, but that they need to do what it takes to ensure the case is handled competently, whether on their own or by working with more experienced attorneys.
The duty of diligence, quite simply, entails acting with “reasonable diligence and promptness.” This means that attorneys have the duty to act with commitment and dedication to their clients’ interests and should be zealous advocates for their clients. Like the duty of competence, that of diligence is rather general, but it does impose upon attorneys definite obligations.
An attorney who does not act with reasonable care in advocating for the interests of a client does not abide by the duty of diligence. This could come out in a number of ways, from failing to filing motions in the interests of a client, failing to protect a client’s due process rights, and advising a client to resolve a case in a way that a reasonable attorney would not, given the facts and circumstances.
The duty of diligence does recognize that attorneys have professional discretion, so what this duty refers to is advocacy which falls outside the bounds of what a reasonable attorney would consider to be a matter of professional judgment.
Violation of the duties of competence and diligence do not often appear in a vacuum. Often, they go along with other violations of professional duties. Those who have suffered losses as a result of substandard legal advocacy should always work with an experienced legal malpractice attorney to ensure they build the strongest possible case and have zealous advocacy in seeking a favorable outcome in their case.