Lawyers have a fiduciary duty to their clients. That means they have an obligation to act in their best interests. Most attorneys do everything in their power to offer clients appropriate representation when they must navigate challenging legal matters.
Unfortunately, some lawyers take on cases where interests outside of their clients’ needs influence their decisions. Lawyers should typically warn their clients when a conflict of interest exists and refer them to another attorney. However, some lawyers hide that conflict of interest and offer clients bad advice or represent them in ways that benefit themselves or others instead.
An undisclosed conflict of interest could provide grounds for a legal malpractice lawsuit if dissatisfied clients discover it later. The following common kinds of conflicts of interest could compromise a lawyer’s representation of a client.
Personal financial interests
Lawyers often seek to maximize their personal wealth through investments or sometimes even small side businesses. They may not notify a client about their financial interest in a business or similar financial connections. They might then give advice or provide representation based on what would benefit them financially rather than achieve the best outcome for their client.
Close social connections
Lawyers have friends and family just like everyone else, and they usually don’t want to see their loved ones lose money or go to prison. They might therefore compromise the legal advice or representation they give to clients when the situation could affect someone they know personally. Discovering that the defendant in a recently-settled lawsuit was a college roommate of the lawyer representing the plaintiff could be a good reason to question the motivation behind their push to settle the case.
Lawyers typically have an assortment of different clients that they serve, and they will not necessarily make a client list available. Some people learn that the attorney who represented them also represented a business or individual involved in their legal matter. Discovering a significant conflict of interest after a deeply disappointing outcome to a legal issue could give a client reason to question what happened. In some cases, they may have the grounds to take legal action against the lawyer who represented them without warning about the conflict of interest.
Being able to recognize what constitutes legal malpractice may help people hold a lawyer accountable for unethical or unprofessional behavior. Seeking legal guidance from an attorney that practices legal malpractice law is a good way to gain clarity and support.