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The definition for “conflict of interest” just expanded

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a group of legal professionals from throughout the country that serves as the national representative for the legal system. It is constantly working to improve the legal system for the public. One of the ways it helps achieve this goal is through the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules help guide who can and cannot present themselves as a lawyer offering legal services in their state.

The ABA recently announced guidance for determining the presence of personal relationships with opposing counsel and when these relationships pose a potential conflict of interest.

What changed?

In the past, the language of the ABA rules generally stated that a conflict of interest was present when opposing counsel was closely related by blood or marriage. Societal norms have changed. It is not uncommon for people to cohabitate for long periods of time or otherwise have a relationship that would likely rise to the level of a conflict of interest for the lawyer. The ABA recommends the lawyer disclose such relationships to their clients.

The opinion also addresses friendships. It states that these relationships are more difficult to navigate, but generally recommends disclosure of close friendships.

It is important to note that in many of these situations’ clients can choose to continue to use of a lawyer for representation if the lawyer properly discloses the relationship and its potential impact on the case. However, even with informed consent, the lawyer would violate their relationship with their client if it became known that the lawyer shared information about the client or case with opposing counsel.

What happens if my lawyer violates this rule?

It can serve as evidence towards a legal malpractice claim for conflict of interest. You could hold the lawyer financially accountable if this violation negatively impacted your case.