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Dealing with conflict from a lawyer's perspective

All good lawyers are well-versed in dealing with conflicts - from family members and loved ones who want you to represent them in a legal matter, to clients convicted as co-defendants who both want you to represent them. Generally, conflicts refer to any number of circumstances where there is a substantial risk that your client may be materially and/or adversely compromised by your own interests or your duties to another current or former client, or a third-party during the course of your representation. Not identifying and resolving conflicts from the beginning can result in various unwanted consequences; including state bar discipline, civil liability for legal malpractice, disqualification as counsel in a litigated matter, and inability to collect fees or disgorgement of fees.

Conflicts fall into several categories. One is risk of third party interference in an attorney-client relationship, such as an individual or entity other than the client paying the lawyer's fees. Oftentimes when someone else foots the legal bills, a lawyer can feel pressured to give in to their wants or needs instead of the client's. It is crucial to remember that no matter what outside influence a third party may have, a lawyer's ethical obligation is solely to their client.

Conflict also may arise when a lawyer's own interests conflict with those of his or her client; such as when a lawyer does business with a client, has a sexual relationship with a client, or if a lawyer's own personal beliefs threaten loyalty to a client. Additionally, conflicts can occur when a lawyer simultaneously represents two or more clients with conflicting interests, such as representing multiple accident victims; as well as when the interests of former and current clients conflict.

While conflicts should be avoided, they don't have to be the death knell for that particular client - most conflicts are not barriers to representation, they just must be handled appropriately. The best approach is to identify conflicts as soon as possible, and determine whether the conflict is consentable. Once identified, consult with your client and obtain informed written consent and provide written disclosure (assuming the client still wishes to continue on with representation).

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