Do You Take the Case?

By: Craig S. Brodsky | 5.13.24 | Media

The phone rings. The voice on the other end asks you to take the case. The fee is great. You feel for the potential client. The subject is interesting but outside your expertise. What do you do?

As with most ethics issues, the answer lies in the rules. In this case, Maryland Rule 19-301.1 (Competence). Rule 1.1 seems basic:

“An attorney shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

But what does it mean to provide competent representation? Does it mean a lawyer is precluded from taking a type of case he or she has never handled before? Does the lawyer need co-counsel? What does a young lawyer who is building a practice do? What happens if an attorney gets a new job working on matters that he or she has never worked on before?

Competence under Rule 1.1 is explained by Comment 5. It means the lawyer inquired into and analyzed the factual and legal elements of the problem. It includes adequate preparation and attention based on the needs of the case.  Obviously the more complex the matter, the more work that must go into the matter.

There are dozens of disciplinary cases analyzing lawyers' handling of cases under Rule 1.1. There are only a few common threads between these cases.

First, Rule 1.1 violations typically go hand in hand with other rule violations. In the cases where the Supreme Court (or then-Court of Appeals) found violations of Rule 1.1, the lawyer almost always had multiple rule violations.

Second, rarely will a single mistake rise to the level of a violation. Rather, most 1.1 violations involve a course of conduct over the entire representation.

This does not mean any lawyer can defend a felony or serve as plaintiff’s counsel in a trade secret case. Competence can require significant preparation and consulting or associating with other lawyers. Comment 4 provides a lawyer may also achieve competence through reasonable preparation. Finding a mentor, friend or co-counsel to help is a good strategy.

So, what do you do?

Take the case. Take the new job. Just be willing to put in the time.

Comment 2 to Rule 1.1 specifically states that a lawyer does not need special training or experience to provide competent representation. There is good reason for this. Many skills, such as research, writing and issue spotting go across all types of cases.

Competent lawyers simply don’t need specialized knowledge to spot the major issues in a client’s case, conduct legal research or interview witnesses. Do not fret!

Craig Brodsky - Blog-HeadshotCraig Brodsky is a partner with Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP in Baltimore. For over 25 years, he has represented attorneys in disciplinary cases and legal malpractice cases, and he has served as ethics counsel to numerous clients. His column in The Daily Record appears on the first Thursday of every month. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Daily Record on April 4, 2024.


Goodell DeVries defends various professionals in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, including lawyers and law firms. Many of these cases are ethics matters involving Bar Counsel. If you have questions about the above or are a Maryland lawyer facing discipline, please contact us at