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Chapter 9: Lawyers and Conflicts of Interest:
Attorneys have many duties of care to their clients. One important duty is loyalty, and lawyers are bound to divulge any and all conflicts of interest that might arise before or during representation. In fact, a lawyer can’t take you on as a client if you haven’t given the go-ahead after finding out about a potential conflict of interest.
What Is a Conflict of Interest?
It varies. If an attorney has a personal reason that would hinder him from effectively representing you, it’s considered a conflict. If he or his law firm is representing your adversary, both clients must okay the potential conflict. In fact, an attorney must be loyal even to prospective clients. That means that an attorney can’t ever speak of confidential information you divulge while seeking representation. They can’t even take on cases that conflict with your case if you don’t become their client; however, if the lawyer has not learned too much or are screened (eliminated) from the new proceeding, they don’t have to carry out that duty if you aren’t a client.
Aren’t lawyers businesspeople? Why should they have to turn down potentially thousands of lucrative cases because of their duty to one client? It’s simple – lawyers are held to a high professional standard of care. Loyalty is one of the most important duties of an attorney. It allows clients to be open and forthright and establishes the kind of trust that’s essential to effective representation.
When a Conflict Is Permitted
But there are exceptions to every rule, and conflicts of interest are no different. For example, law firms may hire former government attorneys, even if they were adverse to claims currently represented by that firm. However, the new attorney must be screened from that matter at all times in order to prevent improper conduct. That means that the attorneys handling the case may not mention it or divulge any information to the former lawyer, nor may they seek their advice or consultation. Most large law firms have complex conflicts databases in order to keep track of the former clients and potential conflicts of their attorneys. However, even the most modest sole practitioner should run a conflict check before offering representation.
Whether or not there’s a conflict of interest, a lawyer may “fire” his or her client or withdraw from representation at any time. However, it’s not ethical to do so in order to hire a more desirable client.