The most popular legal malpractice cases stem from conflicts of interest accusations towards the lawyer. This year, insurance broker Ames & Gough conducted a study with nine of the leading lawyers' professional liability insurance companies and found that seven of them claimed that conflicts of interest was the leading legal malpractice error.
It is your lawyer's duty to represent you fairly and to prevent any potential conflicts of interest from interfering with your case. Many of these conflicts can be discovered before the trial starts, and your attorney should have a system in place to see if any clients they work with are your opponent in the case.
They need to obtain all necessary information from you.
You need to be clear with your lawyer about everyone involved in this case. Inform your attorney about everyone in the opposing party and if there are more people the firm would be representing than just you.
Representing multiple people at once is one of the more common ways that conflicts of interest can arise. One of the clients in the group may want something different out of the case than you, which can alter how the attorney represents each individual. If a group member wants to be more aggressive in the case, the lawyer might prioritize their needs over your own.
They need to check their case history.
Law firms should have a conflict check program in place to allow their employees to access data regarding past and current clients. These systems can range from having paper index cards and filing cabinets to creating or installing computer programs to track client history.
After obtaining information from your case, they can apply it to their program to see if they represented you or your opponent in the past, or if someone else in the law firm is already representing the opposing party.
They need your consent to represent you.
If your attorney does find a potential conflict of interest but still believes they can represent you regardless, they should not leave you oblivious to the situation. They should ask for your written consent to move forward in the case after informing you in detail about the potential conflict. The lawyer should inform you and obtain consent should any other conflicts arise during the case proceedings.
Your lawyer needs to take the right steps to avoid any conflict of interest from interfering with your case. If your lawyer failed to perform any of these actions and did not prevent a conflict from affecting their representation of you, you can find them liable for legal malpractice.