What is a Conflict of Interest?


Any professional can run into a conflict of interest. For lawyers, a conflict of interest is a serious matter that could lead to disbarment, discipline, or even a malpractice lawsuit. Consequently, attorneys must pay careful attention to their decisions.

Quite simply, conflicts of interest are when lawyers are put into ethical dilemmas. Legal professionals are held to high standards and must follow rules of legal ethics. When they feel that they cannot ethically represent clients because of conflicting realities and facts, they are supposed to remove themselves from these situations.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct outlines conflicts of interest. Sometimes, a client may consent to working with an attorney, even if there is a present or possible conflict of interest. In other situations, attorneys cannot ask clients for consent and must recuse themselves from being representatives.

It should be noted that conflicts of interest are not always cut and dry or immediately obvious. This is why the rules regarding conflicts of interest are open to interpretation. Every situation is unique, which means every attorney-client relationship should be carefully evaluated prior to any work being conducted.

How Do Conflicts of Interest Arise?

A conflict of interest can happen in a variety of ways. In a large law firm, two attorneys may be approached by opposing parties in a divorce situation. If both attorneys took the case, they would put the firm in conflict. After all, neither party could have peace of mind during negotiations. Therefore, the firm could represent only one of the divorcing parties. The other party would have to go to a different firm.

Although it seems like conflicts of interest would be simple to spot and avoid, they are not always so straightforward. Busy law firms may have a list of hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of previous and current clients. This makes the chances of future conflicts quite likely.

Another common reason can be when an attorney moves to a new firm. Lawyers, like all professionals, are mobile in their careers. When an attorney leaves one firm to go to another, the attorney will likely have to sign legal papers regarding future conflicts. Nonetheless, lawyers can get into ethical and consent-related problems at new firms, depending on the clients they have previously represented.

Can Clients Ask About Conflicts of Interest?

Ideally, attorneys should look into conflicts of interest prior to taking on any new cases. A would-be client can ask about conflicts upon a first meeting with a lawyer. A client will want to make sure that the lawyer they are considering does not have any conflicting ties or relationships with the opposing party or parties.

Clients who pay attorneys for representation should expect their lawyers to be forthright about any known or suspected conflicts of interest as soon as they arise; otherwise, a legal malpractice lawsuit can be brought forth.

A legal malpractice lawsuit is not uncommon, particularly if a client believes that the conflicts of interest cost them a court win, lowered their settlement money, or ended up hurting them in some financial, social, legal, or emotional way. If one is facing a legal malpractice lawsuit, it is extremely important to obtain outside representation.

If you are facing a legal malpractice lawsuit, contact one of our Cherry Hill ethics lawyers at Agre & St. John today. We handle complex legal malpractice suits, and we will address all of your concerns. Call us at 856-454-8674 or complete our online form for an initial consultation. Located in Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and Salem County.

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