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What is A Conflict of Interest?

Conflict of InterestGenerally speaking, Conflicts of Interest can pertain to a company, judge or jury or even a lawyer.  In this blog though, we will be talking about attorneys and Conflicts of Interest, what they are, why they aren’t very beneficial to the other parties and why it’s essentially against a moral code to take on a client when there is a conflict of interest.  When it comes to conflict of interest cases, they tend to be ultra-specific and yet oftentimes they are difficult to identify or don’t raise a lot of red flags like some other issues in the legal system.  One of the biggest reasons why people in the law profession – even cops, are so easily swayed or have such an issue with conflicts of interest is because they are people in positions that are very powerful.  It’s not an unusual situation to find a public official like a lawyer, officer or judge that gets themselves involved in something that could be thought of as being conflict of interest.  This can be something really blatant or it could also be something very innocent such as stocks and bonds or getting involved with board memberships or creating friendships or relationships with former clients.

What Exactly Is A Conflict Of Interest?

One of the best ways to understand what a conflict of interest is, is to take a look at the word interest.  Everyone in the world has an interest in something, whether it be professional or personal.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an activity they like to do, a hobby or even financial interests like stocks and bonds or investing.  When it comes to an interest, oftentimes people make certain decisions based on if they will or will not benefit from that action or because of that interest.  Most of the time when you deal with other professions, they don’t run into a conflict of interest because their situations rarely crossover from their professional responsibilities.  However!  A person that is placed in a position or a profession where they have a certain sense of judgment or power, certain steps, such as a conflict of interest may take place, to ensure that their private interests to not interlude with their professional duties.  Here are a few examples:

  • Simultaneous representation, which is when one attorney represents two clients who are adversaries in a case
  • When an attorney represents two clients in separate cases where the legal position of one will have negative consequences for the other
  • Litigation involving relatives such as a husband and wife in divorce case
  • When an attorney represents a client in a matter that may be adverse to that of a former client
  • When an attorney acts as a witness in a case in which the attorney is also representing a client
  • When an attorney enters into business transactions with a client

How to Know?

When you get hired for a position, not unlike a lawyer, you will often be handed a contract and in that contract you will have a notice of what conflict of interest is and that they don’t allow something like this to go on.  However, even though it’s sometimes difficult for people to enforce these terms.  If you have a lawyer who is, however, creating a conflict of interest, it’s probably time to find someone else to handle your case.  If an attorney is aware of something that you are not, and if they don’t abide by certain guidelines and rules, such as presenting clients who they have a conflict of interest with – they can face a disciplinary action.  Of course these types of laws vary by state and country, but in general terms a lawyer will need to attend a disciplinary hearing in which they will either have to pay a fee, or they might even face something like suspension or disbarment.  This is a very serious crime indeed.