Lack of Knowledge
Some attorneys simply lack the basic skills to represent their clients. One common area where this arises in Arizona is that a lawsuit for damages from an accident, filed against state or local government, requires that a “notice of claim” be filed within 180 days after the accident. See, A.R.S. § 821.01. A failure to do so can destroy the claim. Some attorneys are unaware of this, take cases involving massive injuries caused by the negligence of governmental entities, fail to file the notice of claim and destroy the case.
Attorneys are not required to be the leading expert in every area in which they practice. One court stated that: “(a)n attorney must act for his client in a reasonably careful and skillful manner in light of his special professional knowledge.” Martin v. Burns, 102 Ariz. 341, 343, 429 P.2d 660 (Ariz. 1967).
Another court stated that an attorney “must ‘… possess such a reasonable knowledge of the law as is ordinarily possessed by other attorneys, and to discover those additional rules of law which, although not commonly known, may be readily found by standard research techniques.’ 7A C.J.S. Attorney and Client, § 256 (1980) [footnotes omitted]. Baird v. Pace, 156 Ariz. 418, 420, 752 P.2d 507 (App. 1987).
Yet another stated an attorney must “use such skill, prudence, and diligence as lawyers of ordinary skill and capacity commonly possess and exercise in performance of tasks which they undertake…” Commercial Union Insurance v. Lewis & Roca, 183 Ariz. 250, 252 fn. 2, 902 P.2d 1354 (App. 1995). Courts have also made the fairly obvious point that “(i)t is exceedingly difficult, if not utterly impossible, to lay down any general rule which would control the measure of the liability in all cases. (Cite omitted).” Collins v. Miller & Miller Ltd., 189 Ariz. 387, 943 P.2d 747, 752 (App. 1996).
The Entrekin Law Firm handled a case many years ago in which an attorney did not know how to properly file a lis pendens. The attorney filed the lis pendens incorrectly and because of this, a large real estate transaction fell apart. The attorney’s client was sued because of this and had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, because of his attorney’s lack of knowledge. The Entrekin Law Firm brought a subsequent legal malpractice lawsuit on this basis.
If an attorney fails to exercise the basic knowledge which would be reasonably expected of an attorney of ordinary skill and prudence in the same or similar circumstances, they are liable for negligence to the client.