The Model Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to avoid representation if there is a conflict of interest, but does a conflict exist if the attorney is representing more than one client for the same legal matter? Although it may seem like this is an automatic legal malpractice claim, that is not always the case. Because this issue is so complicated it is helpful to have a better understanding of how this type of relationship may be legal or not before moving forward with a legal malpractice claim.
So is it legal?
In some cases, yes. The American Bar Association (ABA), a group of legal professionals from throughout the country, note that in some situations an attorney can represent multiple clients in the same matter.
It is important to point out that when an attorney represents multiple clients, the attorney has a duty of loyalty to each client. As a result, the lawyer will likely share information discussed with each client. The attorney-client privilege generally does not exist. This is generally true both with conversations between parties and in the event of future litigation. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that the attorney must discuss this fact because this is such an important part of the relationship between attorneys and their clients.
When is a lawyer’s representation of multiple clients malpractice?
If, for example, the negotiation attempts with the parties fail, the attorney should likely withdraw from representing any of the clients in future proceedings about that issue. A failure to do so could rise to the level of malpractice. As a result, it is a red flag if an attorney takes on multiple representation for a case that is clearly contentious.
The lawyer is also required to plainly explain how the relationship will not be that of a normal attorney-client relationship in these situations. These are just a few examples of when this relationship can rise to the level of malpractice. If you are concerned, it is a good idea to have a professional review the situation to see if yours qualifies.