Attorneys have an ethical obligation to stay abreast of changing rules, regulations, and case law that impact the various areas of the law in which they practice. Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility specifically outlines that in order for a lawyer to provide competent representation to a client, he or she must have the “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” The comments to Rule 1.1 clearly state that lawyers should keep up with changes in the law and its practice in order to provide competent legal advice. However, many practitioners do not know how to balance this ethical obligation against the weight of heavy caseloads and work requirements.
Every area of the law is different in how rapidly changes are made or updates are provided. Thus, attorneys must research the best way to stay on top of their specific practice areas. However, there are certain suggestions that may be followed across all practice areas:
- Continuing Legal Education: Attend CLEs regularly that address specific practice areas. Most practice areas have annual updates to the law or similarly-titled CLE courses. These courses are a one-stop shop to learn about the recent changes or additions to specific areas of the law and often involve question and answer portions for further clarification if any is necessary.
- Participating in committees: Participation in bar committees and/or court committees allows practitioners to interact with other legal professionals outside of their own office or firm. By interacting with other attorneys in a committee setting, attorneys have the ability to know before a change comes out, what the update is about, or the impact of the recent amendment to the practice of a specific area of the law.
- Legal journals, publications, and podcasts: Receiving legal journals and publications from a mailing list is very different from reading and digesting what the legal articles discuss. It’s important for practitioners and legal professionals to carve out a specific period of time each month to read through the publications that are sent to them to stay abreast of new issues and the implications of any new statutes, rules, or case law. There are also many podcasts that attorneys can listen to that discuss recent developments in the law and the implications of such issues on the practice of law in a given field.
In addition to the ethical requirements of staying on top of the rules, case law, and impact of changing practice requirements in each legal field, there are serious business consequences for attorneys who fail to keep themselves updated. As counselors and advisors, attorneys cannot provide sound legal advice to clients without knowing the true implications of their proposed course of action. Aside from the ethical problems that can arise in such situations, the serious business implication is that clients will remove their business and go elsewhere. Word travels fast in each practice area, and no attorney wants to have a reputation of not knowing what they are talking about.
About the Author
Shirin Afsous is as an associate attorney at Livesay & Myers, P.C., practicing exclusively family law.