ISBA Ethics Question: CVLS Response

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An ISBA Ethics Question of the Week recently answered a question regarding the level of experience necessary for client representation, an issue CVLS addresses every day.

When asked, “Can I represent a client in a field of law I’m not familiar with?” the ISBA’s ethics panel responded that “a lawyer need not necessarily have special training or prior experience” to handle unfamiliar issues, and that “the requisite level of competence can be achieved by reasonable preparation,” citing RPC Rule 1.1: Competence.

We encourage the idea of a well-supported attorney representing a client in an unfamiliar field. CVLS’ program model - employing a small staff of attorneys with specialized training to support our wide network of volunteers - perpetuates the concept of attorneys taking cases outside their purview, not only from an organizational standpoint, but also as a means of professional development for our volunteers.

Our volunteers learn to represent clients in a wider range of areas than they would otherwise practice because they want to make a difference to as many people as possible.

To support our volunteers’ efforts, we offer extensive volunteer resources in Adoption, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for Minors, Minor Guardianship, Adult Guardianship, Bankruptcy and Divorce. We guide volunteers through the entire process using extensive tutorial videos, guides, templates and instruction manuals compiled by our own staff attorneys.

In its opinion, ISBA’s ethics panel also pointed to the RPC 1.1 comment that a novice lawyer could also associate with a lawyer of “established competence” in the field; our staff attorneys ensure that volunteers are never alone to handle a case, particularly one outside of their experience.

By expanding competence in your profession, you are also expanding the availability of justice to those in need. We want you to fulfill the sense of justice that drove you toward the world of pro bono, and toward supporting CVLS’ efforts in providing legal help for everyone, not just those who can afford it.