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Attorney competence: understandably, an issue of key importance

Many residents in Los Angeles County and elsewhere across California might reasonably lack much knowledge regarding the legal canons and standards that govern the practice of law in the state.

After all, when a person needs a lawyer, he or she is most concerned with securing the help of a competent professional, not acute familiarization with the underlying requirements imposed on that attorney by regulators who police the legal profession and write rules concerning lawyers' duties and conduct.

And, thus, many readers -- and clients of California attorneys -- might be surprised to know just how closely attorneys in the state are overseen by the State Bar of California and attendant requirements set forth in relevant codes and regulations.

As noted in an online overview of attorney competence in California and rules governing lawyers' conduct, myriad laws and ethical rules provide for "a broad spectrum of potential consequences that flow from incompetent representation."

That primer points to the California Business and Professions Code at the outset, noting that it imposes a duty upon every lawyer in the state "faithfully to discharge the duties of any attorney at law to the best of his knowledge and ability." The State Bar's California Rules of Professional Conduct contains multiple provisions that speak to lawyer competence and that warn against legal representation compromised by alcohol/drug use, mental impairments, lack of preparation and other factors.

The copious amount of competency-related information and prohibitions against impaired representation unquestionably underscore that attorney competence is a subject of significant concern to California legal regulators.

The bottom line is that some attorneys do act incompetently, to the great detriment of the clients who justifiably rely upon them.

There are remedies against such conduct in California, buoyed by the rationale that protecting the general public against legal malpractice is an important policy. A proven malpractice attorney can provide further information and advocate diligently on behalf of a client who has suffered from incompetent legal counsel.

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