Risk Update

Dabblers — On the Risks Lawyer “Dabbling”

CNA’s latest newsletter: “Dibble Dabble Double Trouble: Mitigating the Risks of Dabbling In Your Law Practice” —

  • “The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines ‘dabble’ as ‘to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a
    secondary activity or interest.’ In a legal context, ‘dabbling’ – or practicing in areas outside of your comfort zone, on a sporadic basis, in a field in which you have relatively little experience – is fraught with inherent risks.”
  • “A ‘dabbler,’ by definition, presents a practice risk where the attorney has not invested the time nor the regular engagement to achieve competence in a particular area of law. ‘I know enough about X to be dangerous’ is a mantra frequently repeated “in jest, and yet it is no laughing matter.”
  • “On the contrary, providing less than competent legal representation is problematic for not just the attorney but their clients, the courts, and the legal system. Dabbling to the point of incompetency also may lead, not surprisingly, to possible disciplinary violations and legal malpractice actions.”
  • “The [2020 ABA] report further finds that more than 60 percent of all legal malpractice claims involve an area of the law in which the subject attorney works less than 20 percent of the time and attorneys who practice in a single area of the law account for less than seven percent of all legal malpractice claims.”
  • “Lawyers dabble in unfamiliar practice areas for a variety of reasons. The law is a business, and a lawyer can, of course, be motivated to take on a “new kind of matter” (for them) purely for economic reasons… Sometimes dabbling arises from a desire to help purely for personal instead of pecuniary reasons.”
  • “In addition, there are certain practice areas where dabbling is more dangerous or where there is ‘crossover,’ meaning that one or more areas of practice overlap within the specific facts presented by the client. For example, intellectual property [IP] legal matters encompass multiple, discrete, and specialized practice areas, i.e., patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret law… Another area of practice that may pose significant problems for the ‘dabbling’ attorney is wills, estates and trusts… Immigration law is another area where dabbling is becoming more frequent… Bankruptcy and collections matters present yet another area where the ‘dabbler’ may encounter problems due to their lack of experience… Lastly, while family law/domestic relations may seem simple at first glance, unexpected complexities (transfer of assets that become taxable events, retirement accounts, etc.) may arise that complicate matters for the dabbler.”
  • “Be mindful that your inexperience in the practice area might hurt your client. Opposing counsel will perform due diligence, check you out, and learn about your reputation and background. If you are dabbling, and present as new to the area of practice, they may try to leverage your perceived inexperience. Experienced lawyers will pick up on your lack of experience and may try to intimidate you or, worse yet, leverage any lack of competency into a more favorable settlement or resolution for their client.”
  • “It may be that you took on the representation of your current client with the best of intentions, but as the matter progressed, it became apparent you were out of your depth. If the issues are beyond your level of competency, and you are unable or unwilling to either put the additional time in to obtain competency or to engage with co-counsel, then withdrawal would most likely be warranted and possibly required.”