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Exploring the unknown

In a time of economic uncertainty, more and more attorneys are venturing into fields they’ve never practiced.

Recently, I witnessed an attorney well known for doing estate work handling a major traffic matter. This in itself is not an improper thing to do; in fact, in many ways it’s commendable. The willingness to try different fields can be financially and intellectually rewarding.

That notwithstanding, in a profession where improper advice/representation can cost one their license to practice, it’s best if we err on the side of caution. While people tend to view an attorney as a jack of all trades, the reality is the field of law tends to resemble medicine. Like medicine, law has varying specialties with professionals focusing on particular fields and issues.

If and when you have someone come into your office with a complicated real estate issue, and your previous experience has been in criminal law, you may be wise to say, “I don’t know the answer to your question.” While that may bruise your ego and wallet, your prospective client will appreciate the candor.

This is not to say you should give up on an unfamiliar practice.  You can continue your response in one of two ways:

  1. “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’ll research the issue and give you an answer in a few days.”
  2. “I don’t know the answer to your question. The best I can do is recommend another attorney.”

If you’re ambitious and daring, you may choose the first response. If so, heed the words of a fellow and seek out a mentor to assist you in your task. This is especially true for us young attorneys. While it will be humbling, you’ll learn what needs to be done, and more importantly represent your client competently.