As an attorney, facing accusations of having a conflict of interests may fill you with concern. After all, a conflict of interest may complicate your case to the extent that a court may question or even overturn the outcome. In some circumstances, a conflict of interest can cloud your reputation as a lawyer or even result in disciplinary action.
However, it is important to understand the complexity of such conflicts. In fact, even a conflict that may seem inexcusable, such as having a romantic relationship with a client, may not necessarily prevent you from effectively representing that client.
No pat answer
The laws and rules that govern conflicts of interest are broad and, in some cases, ill defined. The American Bar Association's Model Rules for Professional Conduct discusses conflicts involving past, current and prospective clients, as well as rules related to conflicts that may exist between your client and another attorney in your firm. Depending on how long you have practiced law and how specific your practice area, you may find it hard to avoid some conflicts throughout your career.
If you are facing a situation that may have conflicting interests, there are certain factors you may consider, including:
- Is the conflict in question permissible by the rules of ethics or case law in California?
- Did you become aware of the conflict before you agreed to represent the client?
- Is your client aware of the conflict?
- Does your client consent to your representation despite the conflict of interests?
- Is there anything you or your firm must do to prevent complications arising from the conflict, such as prohibiting discussion of the case around certain attorneys?
- Who informed you of the conflict, and does that person – for example, a judge or opposing counsel – see the conflict as too serious to overlook?
Of course, you may also have to take into consideration the source of the information. For example, it is possible that no serious conflict exists, and the charges that you were conflicted may be a former client's stepping stone to claiming ineffective counsel to boost an attempt at appealing a judgment.
Help in complex matters
In each case, you will have to weigh the matter carefully to determine whether refusing to represent a client is the safer course, or if the conflict is negligible and permissible. In all matters, you have the option of seeking answers from a skilled attorney who can not only advise you on the appropriate course of action but can represent your case if you should face disciplinary action resulting from a conflict of interests.