Lawyers are regulated by the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, with some variations from state to state. In general, attorneys are required to analyze all potential conflicts of interest before taking any action. The most common type of conflict involves a new client suing a current client. Other examples include a new client suing a former client or an adverse client. For more information on the legal ethics of conflict of interest, consult a lawyer’s ethical handbook or read the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Relationship between lawyer and client
Generally, a lawyer has a fiduciary responsibility to represent a client and to act in the client’s best interests. Nonetheless, the relationship between lawyer and client may also pose conflicts of interest when the lawyer has other responsibilities or has a competing interest. The Rules of Professional Conduct & Ethics (RPSE) address some types of conflicts. For example, Rule 1.18 addresses lawyer-client relationships and their impact on privilege.
The Rule on Conflicts of Interest requires lawyers to disclose any conflicting interests when they represent a client. A lawyer cannot represent a client in a legal proceeding when their interests are fundamentally different. If they are generally aligned, however, they may be able to represent a client in a manner that will not create a conflict of interest. Therefore, a lawyer may seek to establish a cooperative or mutually beneficial relationship with clients who share similar interests.
In some situations, a lawyer may have a conflict of interest if he represents his former client in a different matter. This may occur when a lawyer has a conflict of interest relating to the representation of a new client in a matter that is substantially related to a matter the lawyer was previously representing. However, there are instances where a lawyer’s former client is the beneficiary of a substantial gift.
Duty to client
A lawyer owes clients a duty of loyalty, including protecting confidential information. These duties are fundamental to a lawyer’s role as an advocate. However, lawyers may face conflicts of interest when they are acting for two or more clients. The duty of loyalty arises when the interests of a client might be at odds with those of another client. A lawyer should consider the nature of each potential conflict before taking on a new case.
When a lawyer is involved in litigation involving two or more clients, the conflict of interest must be evaluated carefully. Often, a conflict arises when the lawyer represents a former client in a different matter or uses confidential information obtained from a former client. If the matters are unrelated, a lawyer should not act in a conflict of interest unless it is a direct result of the other client’s case.
A lawyer must determine whether the conflict of interest is so severe that continuing to represent one client adversely impacts the ability of the lawyer to represent the other client. Depending on the circumstances, the lawyer may not be able to provide the best representation for the affected client. The duty of loyalty may limit the lawyer’s ability to advocate for all possible positions, including one that might conflict with a client’s best interests.
The rule against representing both sides in litigation
A violation of an ABA rule should not constitute a breach of legal duty and does not warrant any nondisciplinary sanction. The purpose of ABA rules is to provide lawyers with guidance and a structure to regulate their conduct through disciplinary agencies, not to create a legal basis for civil liability. However, some opposing parties may subvert ABA rules by using them as procedural weapons against a lawyer. Thus, a lawyer should consider the purpose of the Rule before implementing a sanctions scheme.