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An attorney with a conflict of interest may put others first

As with any business, law firms in California generally want as many clients as they can get. A steady client load is the lifeblood of a firm, whether you are talking about a solo practice or a powerful international firm with hundreds of attorneys.

However, the more clients you have, the more likely it becomes that two or more of your clients know each other. They may even have conflicting legal or professional goals. For example, they could be businesses in the same field. Representing both of them could be a conflict of interest. In other cases, the attorney him- or herself has a professional or personal relationship that makes proper representation of a potential client impossible.

The California Bar Association has a rule in place that forbids conflicts of interest, which it calls “the representation of adverse interests.” The secret to avoiding many accusations of conflict of interest, a form of legal malpractice, is to make sure that the client knows about the potential conflict before he or she decides to hire the attorney.

The bar association forbids representation of clients in many potential conflict of interest cases, unless the attorney provides written disclosure first. This includes situations where the attorney has a prior relationship with another party or witness in the client’s legal matter, or someone who would be “affected substantially” by the case. It also refers to representing more than one party in a matter when the parties’ interests could conflict.

If the client wishes to hire the lawyer despite a possible conflict, the attorney must get informed written consent from the client. This will show that the client understood the situation and hired the lawyer anyway.

An attorney who fails to let you know about a relationship that conflicts with your case is guilty of legal malpractice. The failure to disclose could jeopardize your ability to get justice. Litigation against the attorney who harmed you could make up for that injustice.