by Tina Seymour Demoran, Esquire

A few months ago, I wrote, “To Bite or Not to Bite?”…a column regarding why attorneys decline to take on certain legal cases.      

My fellow attorneys would agree, WHY is one of the main reasons we take cases.

Why did this person state that the contractor did not finish the job in the agreed-upon manner?

Why is this couple getting divorced?

Why did this person decide to back out on a deal?

Why does this person feel wronged?

Why am I the best attorney for this case?

However, other questions we must ask ourselves before we can even look at the facts of the case are:  “Am I legally allowed to take this case?  Is it a conflict of interest to sue/defend this person?”

I am legally required to run a “conflict check” with every client who calls the firm.

Every client.

So, what is a conflict?

A conflict check is a word lawyers (and our insurance companies) use to check our current and past list of clients to make sure that we can work for you.

Our job is to represent you to the best of our ability and to only work for your best interest.  If we have represented the person on the other side of your case or your transaction or negotiation, then it creates a conflict for us, as we have already pledged to represent the other person to the best of our ability.  Also, by representing that person, we have been given private information by that person that could help you win your case.  Information we are not allowed, by law, to share with you.

This is a standard procedure.  Every attorney is required to perform this check.  It’s nothing personal if we state we have a conflict & can’t take your case.

We are following the law.

Let’s start with this example:  If you’re buying a house, you have a seller and a buyer.  Both the seller and buyer have different motivations.  The buyer wants the house at the best price, the seller wants to get as much money as they can for the house.  That is an opposing interest.  As a lawyer, we recognize this, and we let our clients know that we can only represent one side of this transaction or negotiation.

Another example:  A couple comes to me for a divorce.  I will not represent both the husband and wife, even if they are wanting to get an uncontested divorce.  If I decided to represent them both, and the divorce negotiations do not proceed on a friendly basis, and they start to sue each other…I have to completely withdraw from the case…as I have a conflict.

Another example:  I own a law firm that does family law….divorce, custody, child support, adoption.  It would be a conflict of interest for me to also be a judge who decides cases where any of the parties in the cases I’m “judging” are ex-clients.  It would also be a conflict for me to be a judge in a case where my family member or a friend is involved.

It’s not just a legal issue…it’s an ethical one.

We all experience conflicts of interest in our lives.  It is up to us to make the right decision and avoid them, in advance.

As attorneys, we may not be able to take your case, as we are legally bound to ensure that we avoid conflicts of interest that could cause delays, extra costs, and further legal issues for our clients.