Though the American Bar Association has rules dealing with lawyer’s conflicts on interests, the exact phrase has not been defined. However, when New Yorkers hear the term, one immediately forms negative associations and rushes to judgment against the lawyer in question. But the truth is that not all conflicts of interests disqualify a lawyer or leave them open to disciplinary procedures. Rules exist for this very reason — to protect clients.
A covered attorney is not allowed to represent a client if the lawyer has a conflict with another client. Termed as a concurrent conflict of interest, it refers to situations where representation will adversely affect another client. In addition, it could be a situation where that representation will materially limit the lawyer’s ability to represent another client, a former client or a third-person.
But, the rules do provide an exemption if the affected client gives informed, written consent, among other requirements. For example, the attorney must reasonably believe they can effectively represent the effected clients, that representation cannot be illegal or prohibited, and the two conflicting clients cannot be in the same litigation.
Understanding these rules and exceptions for conflicts of interests are important to ensure that lawyers do not open themselves up to professional disciplinary proceedings for lawyers. An allegation of professional negligence has the potential to ruin an attorney’s career and life, which is why potential conflicts should be identified at the onset of any case and strategies for managing them created. The general approach to be taken should be identified and followed by everyone involved.