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Addressing legal conflict of interest, a widely varied concern

We note on our website (and, additionally, in many of our blog posts) that legal malpractice in California and elsewhere encompasses a broad realm of wrongdoing. Clients often have legitimate grievances against their retained legal counsel based on multiple grounds. Those encompass incompetent representation, ethics/morals violations, missed deadlines, communication failures and malfeasance concerning fees.

Good-faith claims of lawyerly negligence or bad faith also include allegations that spotlight conflicts of interest. A conflict regarding representation is virtually a cardinal sin in the view of California legal authorities and rules enforcers. We note on Glickman & Glickman’s malpractice website that malpractice is flatly inferred “when a lawyer puts his or her interests above the needs of his or her clients.”

There are many ways for that to occur, with clients suffering great detriment when it does. Although it is not always easy to immediately determine when a conflict between legal counsel and a client exists, there are a number of scenarios that leave powerful hints. Those include things like the following:

  • Attorney representation of multiple clients with unaligned – sometimes overtly adverse – interests (e.g., a buyer and seller or partners in a business dispute)
  • Representation from a relatively large firm, where a comparatively larger client list makes conflict a heightened risk
  • Representation where confusion attaches to who the client even is, owing to evolving circumstances (for example, confusion following a commercial startup as to whether the client is the founding entrepreneur or the created business)
  • Case where the attorney has a direct stake at odds with a client’s interests

An overview on legal malpractice based on a conflict of interest provides a litmus test for conflict. It notes its potential existence “whenever an attorney’s independent judgment on behalf of a client may be affected by loyalty to another party.”

A client is well advised to consult with a proven malpractice attorney where such a state of affairs exists.