The Lawyer’s Duty of Competence
The Illinois Supreme Court stated this duty quite succinctly in 1870.
As a professional, the attorney owes the client a duty of due care. In 1870, the Illinois Supreme Court described the attorney’s duty of care in this fashion:
“Where a person adopts the profession of the law, if he assumes to exercise the duties in behalf of another, for hire and reward, he must be held to employ in his undertaking, a reasonable degree of care and skill. If injury results to the client, for the want of such a degree of reasonable care and skill, he must respond in damages, to the extent of the injury sustained. This rule commends itself to our sense of right, as a wholesome and salutary one, and one that is necessary to the protection of that large class of persons who must of necessity submit their interests to the keeping of persons who hold themselves out to the public as learned and skilled in the law.”
Stevens v. Walker, 55 Ill. 151 (1870).
Comment: There are many other facets of this duty. Since 1870, Illinois has adopted the Rules of Professional Conduct and there have been dozens of decisions and administrative hearings. That being said, the statement of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1870 is simple and elegant.