When an attorney passes the bar exam, they are licensed to practice law. There is no separate license or test for a lawyer to handle estate planning or criminal defense matters. However, certain areas of legal practice do allow for board-certified specialization. Unless an attorney decides to enter the field of patent law, which does require passage of a separate test, they are free to practice in any area they choose.
The only requirement for a lawyer to take on a case is to be competent to do so. According to the California Bar, competence refers to the necessary learning and skill to handle a case, as well as mental, emotional, and physical competence. If that appears to be a rather broad definition, that’s because it is. There is no requirement that an attorney must have all of the answers to your problem, nor is there any guarantee that competency will lead to a successful outcome. All of which begs the question of whether it’s even possible for an attorney to act incompetently.
Is incompetent representation grounds for malpractice?
Competency involves more than having the bare legal knowledge to see a case through to its end. Adequate case preparation and the ability to meet filing deadlines also speak to an attorney’s competency.
Whether a lawyer’s representation meets competency standards depends on the circumstances surrounding your case. Just because an attorney incompetently handled your case does not necessarily mean that the behavior rises to the level of malpractice. You must show that the incompetent representation irreparably harmed your case.
You should always do what you can in terms of research before hiring an attorney. Ask them if they have experience handling cases like yours. Online reviews can help give you a superficial view of how others regard the lawyer’s work. If you hired an attorney and believe that they ruined your case through incompetence, you should talk with a skilled legal professional who handles malpractice claims.