Years ago, the head of the College of Physicians and Surgeons told me that professional competence is relative, not absolute. Some elderly, poorly-trained physicians had learned by experience whom they could safely diagnose and treat, and which cases needed to be referred to another physician. Surprisingly, they did not get into trouble. Conversely, extremely able, well-trained physicians in practice for about two years, sometimes attempted things beyond their training and experience, with very bad results
Though I was then working hard on loss-prevention for lawyers, that was news to me. But maybe not to the rest of the world.
The Peter Principle says that people tend to get promoted until they reach a level of work beyond their competence. Then they get no more promotions and stay there a long time. That famous Peter book was written by a British Columbia teacher
Much the same is said by Riggs, who suggested a result. It is that the number of staff needed by the increasingly-incompetent person will rise as he keeps getting promoted. (J. Riggs, 3 Michigan Business Rev. 71, cited in Rawson’s book, Unwritten Laws).
The Law Society long ago showed me statistics of negligence claims against lawyers. A big predictor of likely claims was how long the lawyer had been practising. Around five years at the Bar came the peak of claims. Maybe that was the same rule of relative incompetence? Or maybe confidence grown too fat? Or maybe it was forgetting what law school taught, or not keeping up with recent changes in law, procedure and dangers?
– Hon. J.E. Côté
The Commentaries are intended to call the attention of lawyers to promising or threatening developments in the law, in civil procedure, in developing their skills, or simply to describe something curious, funny or intriguing.
Justice Côté recently retired from the Court of Appeal of Alberta and currently acts as an arbitrator, mediator, or referee under Rules 6.44 and 6.45 of the Alberta Rules of Court.