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When Does a Lawyer Have a Conflict of Interest?

As we discussed in a previous post, a conflict of interest exists when a lawyer’s duty to a client would require the lawyer to take action that is contrary to or would prejudice to the interests of the lawyer, another client, or someone else to whom the lawyer owes a specific type of  legal duty.

Conflicts of interest can take several forms. This short series will look at several common categories, but other types of conflicts of interest do exist; if you think your lawyer–or someone else’s lawyer with whom you have a business or legal relationship–is continuing to represent you (or someone else) despite an improper conflict of interest, consult an experienced third-party lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your legal rights. 



One of the most common conflicts of interest lawyers encounter involves the existence of adverse interests.

In this context, adverse interest means an interest that is antagonistic, actually or potentially detrimental, hostile, opposed, or unfavorable to the interests of someone else–generally, the lawyer’s client.

An adverse interest can arise when a lawyer:

  • Represents a client whose interests are (or become) adverse to the lawyer’s own interests.
  • Simultaneously represents two or more clients whose interests are (or become) adverse to one another’s interests.
  • Represents a client whose interests are (or become) adverse to the interests of a former client.
  • Has a consultation with a potential client, and learns information during that consultation that is adverse to the interests of an existing client.



Sometimes, a lawyer’s relationship with a non-client creates a reasonable expectation that the lawyer owes that non-client a duty of loyalty, or another type of fiduciary duty. If the duty owed to the non-client is adverse to the interests of one or more of the lawyer’s current clients, a conflict of interest may arise.



It’s possible for a lawyer’s own behavior to create conflicts of interest too–and although lawyers should not engage in knowing or deliberate behaviors that create or exploit conflicts of interest with clients, it sometimes does occur. When this happens, the client may have a claim against the lawyer for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty.

Some examples of conflicts of interest that arises from a lawyer’s own behavior include:

  • Entering into transactions, acquiring assets (or liabilities), or representing other clients in circumstances where it is foreseeable that the lawyer’s duties or interests may be adverse or harmful to those of a client.
  • Using confidential information that belongs to a client, or (in many cases) that the lawyer learns in the course of representing a client, in a manner that (a) competes with the client, or (b) is likely to harm the client’s interests.

Although it seems logical, and even obvious, to many people that this type of behavior is wrong, people–including lawyers–do not always behave the way they should. If any of these circumstances has happened to you, consult an experienced lawyer immediately to discuss your legal rights. You may lose or damage your right to recover if you delay.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.

You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.

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