Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

Rule 1.1

Competence

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Comment

Legal Knowledge and Skill

[1] In determining whether a lawyer employs the requisite knowledge and skill in a particular matter, relevant factors include the relative complexity and specialized nature of the matter, the lawyer's general experience, the lawyer's training and experience in the field in question, the preparation and study the lawyer is able to give the matter and whether it is feasible to refer the matter to, or associate or consult with, a lawyer of established competence in the field in question. In many instances, the required proficiency is that of a general practitioner. Expertise in a particular field of law may be required in some circumstances.

[2] A lawyer need not necessarily have special training or prior experience to handle legal problems of a type with which the lawyer is unfamiliar. A newly admitted lawyer can be as competent as a practitioner with long experience. Some important legal skills, such as the analysis of precedent, the evaluation of evidence and legal drafting, are required in all legal problems. Perhaps the most fundamental legal skill consists of determining what kind of legal problems a situation may involve, a skill that necessarily transcends any particular specialized knowledge. A lawyer can provide adequate representation in a wholly novel field through necessary study. Competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.

[2a] Another important skill is negotiating and, in particular, choosing and carrying out the appropriate negotiating strategy. Often it is possible to negotiate a solution which meets some of the needs and interests of all the parties to a transaction or dispute, i.e., a problem-solving strategy.

[3] In an emergency a lawyer may give advice or assistance in a matter in which the lawyer does not have the skill ordinarily required where referral to or consultation or association with another lawyer would be impractical. Even in an emergency, however, assistance should be limited to that reasonably necessary in the circumstances, for ill-considered action under emergency conditions can jeopardize the client's interest.

[4] A lawyer may accept representation where the requisite level of competence can be achieved by reasonable preparation. This applies as well to a lawyer who is appointed as counsel for an unrepresented person. See also Rule 6.2.

Thoroughness and Preparation

[5] Competent handling of a particular matter includes inquiry into and analysis of the factual and legal elements of the problem, and use of methods and procedures meeting the standards of competent practitioners. It also includes adequate preparation. The required attention and preparation are determined in part by what is at stake; major litigation and complex transactions ordinarily require more elaborate treatment than matters of lesser consequence.

Maintaining Competence

[6] To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education. The Mandatory Continuing Legal Education requirements of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia set the minimum standard for continuing study and education which a lawyer licensed and practicing in Virginia must satisfy. If a system of peer review has been established, the lawyer should consider making use of it in appropriate circumstances.

Virginia Code Comparison

Rule 1.1 is substantially similar to DR 6-101(A). DR 6-101(A)(1) provided that a lawyer "shall undertake representation only in matters in which . . . [t]he lawyer can act with competence and demonstrate the specific legal knowledge, skill, efficiency, and thoroughness in preparation employed in acceptable practice by lawyers undertaking similar matters." DR 6-101(A)(2) also permitted representation in matters if a lawyer "associated with another lawyer who is competent in those matters."

Committee Commentary

The Committee adopted the ABA Model Rule verbatim, but added the third paragraph of the Comment to make it clear that legal representation, in which a lawyer is expected to be competent, involves not only litigation but also negotiation techniques and strategies.

In addition, the Committee added the second sentence under Maintaining Competence Comment section to note Virginia's Mandatory Continuing Legal Education requirements.

Updated: October 30, 2009