Attorneys play a critical role in the administration of justice in society, acting as gatekeepers to the legal system and ensuring the rights of their clients are protected and their interests advocated. While each attorney has his or her own unique background, characteristics, approach, strengths and weaknesses, clients should expect that their attorney will meet a minimum standard of care in handling their case.
Under the New Jersey Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, two particularly important rules relating to a lawyer’s handling of a case are those relating to the duty of competence and the duty of diligence. Under these rules, attorneys are prohibited from handling or neglecting a case in a grossly negligent manner or from falling into a pattern of negligence or neglect in handling a case, and are required to act with “reasonable diligence and promptness” in representing a client.
With respect to competence, attorneys are can be held to have violated the professional standard of care whenever they fall into a pattern of handling client matters with less than the ordinary care with which an attorney under the same or similar circumstances would handle such matters, or when they engage in negligence which rises to the level of being conscious and voluntary.
Failure to abide by the duty of competence can mean a lot of things depending on the fact and circumstances, but includes such things as: failing to seek assistance from other qualified attorney when appropriate; putting a client’s interests in jeopardy; and failing to attend to basic responsibilities to clients.
In our next post, we’ll look briefly at the duty of diligence, and why it is important to work with an experienced legal malpractice attorney to hold a negligent attorney responsible for failing in the duties of competence and diligence.